Drugs Used to Treat Lupus: Types of Drugs Used in the Treatment of Lupus, Their Indications and Their Side Effects

Drugs Used to Treat Lupus: Types of Drugs Used in the Treatment of Lupus, Their Indications and Their Side Effects
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Lupus is classified as an autoimmune disease and it is a very complicated and complex disease. The various ways of treating lupus are even more complex and complicated. Drug treatments for lupus are the most common treatments and not every drug will work for every patient. There are several different types of drugs used to treat lupus and many patients will need a combination to effectively treat their lupus symptoms and the disease as a whole.

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

These drugs are the most commonly prescribed drugs in the treatment of lupus. Some patients are able to take over-the-counter NSAIDS such as Ibuprofen and Aleve, but many will require prescription strength ones such as Mobic. These types of drugs are prescribed to help alleviate stiffness and various types of pain. They are most effective in treating inflammation, rib cage pain, swelling, muscle pain and joint pain. Before any lupus patient begins an NSAID regimen, they must consult their physician to help avoid and reduce any complications and possible side effects. Lupus patients on a regular NSAID regimen may experience stomach bleeding, upset stomach and stomach pain. NSAID medications can also increase a person’s risk for developing certain heart problems.

Antimalarial Drugs

There is no known connection between malaria and lupus, but many lupus patients benefit from using antimalarial drugs. This type of drug has been proven effective in helping to prevent lupus flares. Antimalarial drugs can help to alleviate lupus symptoms such as swelling around the lungs and heart, fatigue, joint pain and skin rashes. The most common antimalarial drugs used in the treatment of lupus are Aralen and Plaquenil and many healthcare professionals fee that Plaquenil is more effective and therefore prescribed more often, but Aralen is considered safer. Lupus patients who are on a regular antimalarial drug regiment may experience vision problems and muscle weakness.


Lupus patients who are not responding well to NSAID’s or antimalarial drugs may be prescribed corticosteroids. This type of medication is effective in controlling the major organ involvement that may occur with lupus. This type of medication can also be effective in relieving fatigue, joint pain, inflammation, muscle pain and can aid in suppressing the immune system. The most commonly prescribed corticosteroids include methylprednisolone, hydrocortisone and dexamethasone. These medications can cause some serious side effects. The long-term serious side effects can include osteoporosis, infection, high blood pressure, weight gain, bruising easily and diabetes. Lupus patients taking corticosteroids need to be heavily and regularly monitored by their doctor.

High Dose Corticosteroids

Patients with very aggressive lupus may be required to have a course of high dose corticosteroids. The same basic corticosteroids will be administered, but as doses that are much higher. The side effects are the same, but can be far more intense and may be noticed much sooner. These medications can be administered intravenously or orally, but if administered intravenously, they will “hit the patients system” much quicker.

Immunosuppressive Drugs

Immunosuppressive drugs are used in the most aggressive and serious forms of lupus. Imuran and Cytoxan are the most commonly prescribed. Those taking these type of drugs who also have kidney problems may need to take CellCept (another immunosuppressive drug) as well. Immunosuppressive drugs are used to help reduce the number of flare-ups and to make the symptoms less severe by suppressing the immune system. These drugs can cause some serious side effects including liver damage, increased cancer risk, infertility and increased infection risk.


Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Lupus: Treatments and Drugs. Retrieved on May 25, 2009 from Website: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/lupus/DS00115/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

Lupus Foundation of America. (2010). Medicines. Retrieved on September 13, 2010 from the Lupus Foundation of America: https://www.lupus.org/webmodules/webarticlesnet/templates/new_aboutdiagnosis.aspx?articleid=84&zoneid=15

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