When lupus starts affecting other organs of the body, doctors often prescribe drugs that suppress the immune system, says Kramer. (Lupus causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack itself. Immunosuppressive medications help stop that from happening.) One such example, is Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), originally an anticancer drug. It suppresses the immune system and may be used to reduce inflammation of the kidney, or nephritis, says Dr. Kaplan.

Rheumatologists may not discuss the topic of nutrition with their patients, which is “mainly due to the complex nature of the disease, and doctors often do not have time to discuss diet when there are so many other topics to cover,” Gibofsky explained. “Many rheumatologists will admit that diet is not their area of expertise and will instead refer their patient[s] to meet with a registered dietitian (RD) who can better help with these questions.”

"Keeping my weight under control has been a battle. I have tried diets. I know that being overweight increases joint stress and stress on my heart, both of which can be affected by lupus," says LaPlant. Some of the medications that people take for lupus can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Prednisone, one of the most common medications used to treat lupus flares, can increase your appetite and lead to significant weight gain. Regular, low-impact exercise can help offset weight gain and also improve your health in general.

Micrograph of a section of human skin prepared for direct immunofluorescence using an anti-IgG antibody. The skin is from a person with systemic lupus erythematosus and shows IgG deposits at two different places. The first is a bandlike deposit along the epidermal basement membrane ("lupus band test" is positive); the second is within the nuclei of the epidermal cells (antinuclear antibodies are present).

The lupus erythematosus (LE) cell test was commonly used for diagnosis, but it is no longer used because the LE cells are only found in 50–75% of SLE cases, and they are also found in some people with rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and drug sensitivities. Because of this, the LE cell test is now performed only rarely and is mostly of historical significance.[72]
Fad-diets can be tempting as they offer a quick-fix to a long-term problem. However, they can risk your health. You should follow advice from a doctor or dietician when seeking to change diet. The best way to lose weight and keep it off is to make healthier choices, eat a nutritionally balanced and varied diet with appropriately sized portions, and be physically active. For advice on exercising with lupus, you can read our article HERE.
One food to avoid is alfalfa sprouts. Alfalfa tablets have been associated with lupus flares or a lupus-like syndrome that includes muscle pain, fatigue, abnormal blood test results, and kidney problems. These problems may be due to a reaction to an amino acid found in alfalfa sprouts and seeds. This amino acid can activate the immune system and increase inflammation in people with lupus. Garlic may also stimulate the immune system.

​Subacute cutaneous: The skin symptoms of subacute cutaneous lupus are usually mild. People with this condition, which is also its own form of lupus, present with reddish-purple plaques, which are firm and raised, flattened skin lesions. These plaques can be found alone or in groups and range in size from 5 mm to 20 mm, usually appearing on the trunk, including the upper chest and back. About 10 percent of people with SLE have subacute cutaneous lupus. Certain drugs may also cause subacute cutaneous lupus. 


No single finding qualifies an individual as having SLE. Instead, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has devised certain classification criteria, and four or more of these criteria must be present for a classification of lupus. [The term “classification” is not synonymous with “diagnosis.” “Classification” means that reasonable certainty exists for the diagnosis of lupus for research purposes.] Although, these criteria are currently being updated, they are believed to be about 90% effective. The ACR criteria include malar rash; discoid rash; photosensitivity (development of a rash after sun exposure); oral or nasal ulcers; arthritis of multiple joints; serositis: (inflammation of the lining around the lungs or heart); kidney disease indicated by protein or casts in the urine; neurological disorders such as seizures and psychosis; and blood disorders such as hemolytic anemia, leukopenia, and lymphopenia. Other signs that are common but not included in the classification criteria are hair loss or breaking, especially around the forehead, and Raynaud’s Phenomenon, a two- or three-color change of the fingertips upon cold exposure.
However, the mainstays of treatment are corticosteroids such as prednisone (Deltasone), hydrocortisone, methylprednisolone (Medrol), and dexamethasone (Decadron, Hexadrol). These drugs heavily suppress inflammation but can cause short-term side effects including swelling, increased appetite, and weight gain and long-term side effects including stretch marks on the skin, weakened or damaged bones, high blood pressure, damage to the arteries, diabetes, infections, and cataracts.
To unravel which people with positive ANA tests actually have lupus, additional blood work can be done. Doctors look for other potentially troublesome antibodies, so they will test for anti-double-stranded DNA and anti-Smith antibodies. These tests are less likely to be positive unless a patient truly has lupus. However, a person who has negative test results could still have lupus, even though this is not so in the case of ANA tests.
ANAs are proteins made by the body that can attach to DNA and other substances inside cells. But just because they are present in the body doesn’t necessarily mean they will attack these substances. These antibodies are found in at least 5% of the general population, so there are "many more people walking around with ANAs who are perfectly healthy or have some illness that has nothing to do with lupus," adds Dr. Belmont.

The cause of lupus remains unknown, but there is solid evidence that genetics, epigenetics (changes in chromosomes that affect gene activity), environmental factors, viruses and infections play a role. Further study of these variables is expected to improve our understanding of causes, which should lead to improved diagnosis, prognosis, prevention, and treatment.


Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migraines. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks; laboratory testing is helpful if used correctly and performed with validated methods. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick habitat. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tickborne diseases as well.
"Keeping my weight under control has been a battle. I have tried diets. I know that being overweight increases joint stress and stress on my heart, both of which can be affected by lupus," says LaPlant. Some of the medications that people take for lupus can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Prednisone, one of the most common medications used to treat lupus flares, can increase your appetite and lead to significant weight gain. Regular, low-impact exercise can help offset weight gain and also improve your health in general.
The Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) is a bold new venture between the NIH, 10 biopharmaceutical companies and several non-profit organizations to transform the current model for developing new diagnostics and treatments by jointly identifying and validating promising biological targets of disease. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of new diagnostics and therapies for patients and reduce the time and cost of developing them.
Flare-ups of lupus can cause acute inflammation and damage to various body tissues and can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and brain. Some of the most common symptoms are painful or swollen joints, unexplained fever, kidney problems and extreme fatigue. A characteristic red skin rash – called a “malar” or “butterfly” rash because it roughly mimics the insect’s shape – may appear across the nose and cheeks. Rashes may also occur on the face and ears, upper arms, shoulders, chest, and hands. Because many lupus patients are sensitive to sunlight, skin rashes often develop or worsen after sun exposure.

Because the antibodies and accompanying cells of inflammation can affect tissues anywhere in the body, lupus has the potential to affect a variety of areas. Sometimes lupus can cause disease of the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, joints, and/or nervous system. When only the skin is involved by rash, the condition is called lupus dermatitis or cutaneous lupus erythematosus. A form of lupus dermatitis that can be isolated to the skin, without internal disease, is called discoid lupus erythematosus. When internal organs are involved, the condition is referred to as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Cells are the basic building blocks of all living things. The human body is composed of trillions of cells. They provide structure for the body, take in nutrients from food, convert those nutrients into energy, and carry out specialized functions. Cells also contain the body’s hereditary material and can make copies of themselves. When someone has lupus, the immune system can’t tell the difference between the body’s healthy cells and bacteria and viruses, so the antibodies attack the body’s healthy cells.
Corticosteroids are more potent than NSAIDs in reducing inflammation and restoring function when the disease is active. Corticosteroids are particularly helpful when internal organs are affected. Corticosteroids can be given by mouth, injected directly into the joints and other tissues, or administered intravenously. Unfortunately, corticosteroids have serious side effects when given in high doses over prolonged periods, and the doctor will try to monitor the activity of the disease in order to use the lowest doses that are safe. Side effects of corticosteroids include weight gain, thinning of the bones and skin, infection, diabetes, facial puffiness, cataracts, and death (necrosis) of the tissues in large joints.

These foods are not helpful and most of them contribute to raising the risk of coronary heart disease; there is an increased risk of this in people with lupus, so you will protect yourself by reducing the amount of these you consume. The recommended daily amount of salt should not be more than six grams, which is approximately one teaspoonful; many processed foods are highly salted which means that it’s really easy to exceed this amount. Instead of seasoning your food with salt, try using lemon juice or herbs to enhance its flavour.


A. Chemotherapy can cause a variety of difficult side effects, such as nausea and vomiting. But the chemo drugs used to treat lupus are often gentler than those used to treat cancer, so the side effects aren't as severe. But any type of chemo can harm a woman's fertility by putting her in early menopause, Gilkeson said. While cancer patients sometimes bank their sperm or eggs in order to preserve their future fertility, people with lupus may not have this option, because doctors often want to begin chemo as quickly as possible.
However, the mainstays of treatment are corticosteroids such as prednisone (Deltasone), hydrocortisone, methylprednisolone (Medrol), and dexamethasone (Decadron, Hexadrol). These drugs heavily suppress inflammation but can cause short-term side effects including swelling, increased appetite, and weight gain and long-term side effects including stretch marks on the skin, weakened or damaged bones, high blood pressure, damage to the arteries, diabetes, infections, and cataracts.

A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may help to mitigate inflammation. Although omega-3s have not been adequately studied in lupus, studies of the general population suggest that these essential fatty acids may also boost mood and improve cardiovascular health. Fish, nuts, and flax are excellent sources of omega-3s and can be easily incorporated into everyday meals. Try to avoid saturated fats, such as those in beef and fried snack foods, since these fats are known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and may actually stimulate the immune system.
An increase in the size of an organ, structure, or the body due to growth rather than tumor formation. This term is generally restricted to an increase in size or bulk that results not from an increase in the number of cells but from an increase in a cellular component, e.g., proteins. It applies to any increase in size as a result of functional activity.
Neutrophils, 55% to 70% of all leukocytes, are the most numerous phagocytic cells and are a primary effector cell in inflammation. Eosinophils, 1% to 3% of total leukocytes, destroy parasites and are involved in allergic reactions. Basophils, less than 1% of all leukocytes, contain granules of histamine and heparin and are part of the inflammatory response to injury. Monocytes, 3% to 8% of all leukocytes, become macrophages and phagocytize pathogens and damaged cells, esp. in the tissue fluid. Lymphocytes, 20% to 35% of all leukocytes, have several functions: recognizing foreign antigens, producing antibodies, suppressing the immune response to prevent excess tissue damage, and becoming memory cells.
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With the vast amount of misinformation available online, Gibofsky often sees patients who went on restrictive diets that are purported to reduce lupus symptoms, which they may have read about on the internet or heard about from a neighbor. “Upon further discussion, I find that they do not actually feel better on the diet and, in fact, they have multiple nutritional deficiencies that could actually be the reason behind their worsening symptoms,” she said.
Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is an antimalarial medication found to be particularly effective for SLE people with fatigue, skin involvement, and joint disease. Consistently taking Plaquenil can prevent flare-ups of lupus. Side effects are uncommon but include diarrhea, upset stomach, and eye-pigment changes. Eye-pigment changes are rare but require monitoring by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) during treatment with Plaquenil. Researchers have found that Plaquenil significantly decreased the frequency of abnormal blood clots in people with systemic lupus. Moreover, the effect seemed independent of immune suppression, implying that Plaquenil can directly act to prevent the blood clots. This fascinating study highlights an important reason for people and doctors to consider Plaquenil for long-term use, especially for those SLE people who are at some risk for blood clots in veins and arteries, such as those with phospholipid antibodies (cardiolipin antibodies, lupus anticoagulant, and false-positive venereal disease research laboratory test). This means not only that Plaquenil reduces the chance for re-flares of SLE, but it can also be beneficial in thinning the blood to prevent abnormal excessive blood clotting. Plaquenil is commonly used in combination with other treatments for lupus.
Conventional medicine does not look at the body as a whole, instead viewing it in terms of isolated systems, with a separate doctor for each one. Generally, lupus patients are under the care of a rheumatologist and a doctor who specializes in the area in which they are experiencing symptoms–for example, a nephrologist for your kidneys, and a dermatologist for your skin.

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. have lupus. People of African, Asian, and Native American descent are more likely to develop lupus than are Caucasians. Although it can occur in both men and women, 90% of people diagnosed with the disease are women. Women of childbearing age (14 to 45 years old) are most often affected and as many as 1 in 250 people may develop lupus.
What is known is that lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease (Healthdirect, 2016); meaning, that for people with lupus, their immune system attacks their healthy cells and tissues and not just foreign bodies/invaders (NIH, 2014). Evidently, this can lead to bodily damage. In the most common form of lupus, SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus), nearly all parts of the body can be affected (Healthdirect, 2016).
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Neutrophils, 55% to 70% of all leukocytes, are the most numerous phagocytic cells and are a primary effector cell in inflammation. Eosinophils, 1% to 3% of total leukocytes, destroy parasites and are involved in allergic reactions. Basophils, less than 1% of all leukocytes, contain granules of histamine and heparin and are part of the inflammatory response to injury. Monocytes, 3% to 8% of all leukocytes, become macrophages and phagocytize pathogens and damaged cells, esp. in the tissue fluid. Lymphocytes, 20% to 35% of all leukocytes, have several functions: recognizing foreign antigens, producing antibodies, suppressing the immune response to prevent excess tissue damage, and becoming memory cells.
Describes a clinical trial in which two or more groups of participants receive different interventions. For example, a two-arm parallel design involves two groups of participants. One group receives drug A, and the other group receives drug B. So during the trial, participants in one group receive drug A “in parallel” to participants in the other group receiving drug B.
Neonatal lupus is a rare form of temporary lupus affecting a fetus or newborn. It's not true lupus: It occurs when the mother’s autoantibodies are passed to her child in utero. These autoantibodies can affect the skin, heart, and blood of the baby. Fortunately, infants born with neonatal lupus are not at an increased risk of developing SLE later in life.

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