Medications that suppress immunity (immunosuppressive medications) are also called cytotoxic drugs. They are sometimes referred to as chemotherapy because they are also used to treat cancer, generally in much higher doses than those used to treat lupus. Immunosuppressive medications are used for treating people with more severe manifestations of SLE, such as damage to internal organ(s). Examples of immunosuppressive medications include azathioprine (Imuran), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), chlorambucil (Leukeran), cyclosporine (Sandimmune), and the disease-modifying drug methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall). All immunosuppressive medications can seriously depress blood-cell counts and increase risks of infection and bleeding. Immunosuppressive medications may not be taken during pregnancy or conceptionbecause of risk to the fetus. Other side effects are specific for each drug. For examples, methotrexate can cause liver toxicity, while cyclosporine can impair kidney function.

A diet high in folic acid, such as found in leafy green vegetables, fruits, and fortified breads and cereals, or a folic acid supplement is important if you are taking methotrexate (Rheumatrex). For nausea caused by medications, eat small frequent meals and foods that are easy to digest. Try dry cereals, breads, and crackers. Also avoid greasy, spicy, and acidic foods.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). DMARDs do more than just treat the symptoms of lupus. Research has shown that they can modify the course of the disease, prevent progression and slow joint damage. DMARDs are often used with NSAIDs. Hydroxychloriquine commonly is prescribed for people with lupus. It can cause vision changes in some people, so it is important to have regular vision examinations. Hydroxychloriquine is effective in preventing flares.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Donna Jackson Nakazawa, researcher, writer, and author of The Autoimmune Epidemic, says "patients with lupus do better if they follow an 'anti-autoimmune diet,' which means consuming whole foods, rather than processed foods. This means lamb, chicken, or turkey; fish with low mercury content; hormone-free eggs; organic vegetables and fresh fruits; whole grains from gluten-free sources; nuts and seeds; and olive, sesame, and flaxseed oils. It also means avoiding highly processed foods, including preserved bread products, cereals and snacks, preserved meats, and other foods that are often full of chemicals, preservatives, and additives."
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), commonly known as "lupus," is an autoimmune illness. The immune system, which normally protects the body from foreign invaders and infection, malfunctions and instead attacks a person's own healthy body tissues. Its cause is unknown, but most scientists believe that genetics, combined with outside triggers (such as infections, medications or other environmental factors) lead people to develop lupus. Lupus is a lifelong condition, but symptoms tend to cycle in alternate periods of "flares" (or "flares-ups") and remissions. Lupus affects women much more than men. There is no known cure, but numerous treatments are available.
Lupus pregnancy deserves special review because it presents unique challenges. Pregnant women with SLE are considered high-risk pregnancies. These pregnancies require interactive monitoring generally by a skilled rheumatologist together with an obstetrician expert in high-risk pregnancies. Women with SLE who are pregnant require close observation during pregnancy, delivery, and the postpartum period. This includes fetal monitoring by the obstetrician during later pregnancy. These women can have an increased risk of miscarriages (spontaneous abortions) and can have flares of SLE during pregnancy. The presence of phospholipid antibodies, such as cardiolipin antibodies or lupus anticoagulant, in the blood can identify people at risk for miscarriages. Cardiolipin antibodies are associated with a tendency toward blood clotting. Women with SLE who have cardiolipin antibodies or lupus anticoagulant may need blood-thinning medications (aspirin with or without heparin) during pregnancy to prevent miscarriages. Other reported treatments include the use of intravenous gamma globulin for selected people with histories of premature miscarriage and those with low blood-clotting elements (platelets) during pregnancy. Pregnant women who have had a previous blood-clotting event may benefit by continuation of blood-thinning medications throughout and after pregnancy for up to six to 12 weeks, at which time the risk of clotting associated with pregnancy seems to diminish. Plaquenil has now been found to be safe for use to treat SLE during pregnancy. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are also safely used to treat certain manifestation of lupus during pregnancy.
Inflammation of the lining of the lungs (pleuritis) with pain aggravated by deep breathing (pleurisy) and of the heart (pericarditis) can cause sharp chest pain. The chest pain is aggravated by coughing, deep breathing, and certain changes in body position. The heart muscle itself rarely can become inflamed (carditis). It has also been shown that young women with SLE have a significantly increased risk of heart attacks due to coronary artery disease.
More serious organ involvement with inflammation occurs in the brain, liver, and kidneys. White blood cells can be decreased in SLE (referred to as leukopenia or leucopenia). Also, low blood-clotting factors called platelets (thrombocytopenia) can be caused by lupus. Leukopenia can increase the risk of infection, and thrombocytopenia can increase the risk of bleeding. Low red blood cell counts (hemolytic anemia) can occur.
Another common comorbidity with SLE is osteoporosis; researchers have found an increased risk of fracture and bone loss in SLE. Experts attribute this to several factors, including glucocorticoid medications that can lead to bone loss, inactivity due to symptoms such as pain and fatigue, and possibly the disease activity itself. In addition, women comprise approximately 90% of people with SLE, adding to their generally elevated osteoporosis risk.5
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).
Anitphospholipid Antibodies (APLs): Phospholipids are antibodies that are present in approximately one out of every two people with lupus.  A positive test can help confirm diagnosis as well as help identify women with lupus who have certain risks (like blood clots and miscarriage) that would require preventative treatment and monitoring. Note that the presence of phospholipids also occurs in people without lupus and therefore, there presence alone is not enough for a lupus diagnosis.
Inflammation of the pleurae known as pleurisy can rarely give rise to shrinking lung syndrome.[25] SLE can cause pleuritic pain and also give rise to shrinking lung syndrome, involving a reduced lung volume.[26] Other associated lung conditions include pneumonitis, chronic diffuse interstitial lung disease, pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary emboli, and pulmonary hemorrhage.
Libman-Sacks endocarditis is the most characteristic cardiac manifestation of lupus. It is characterized by clusters of verrucae on the ventricular surface of the mitral valve. These lesions consist of accumulation of immune complexes, platelets, and mononuclear cells. This can lead to heart failure, valvular dysfunction, emboli, and secondary infective endocarditis. Diagnosis is best made via echocardiography, which may reveal the characteristic valvular masses (arrows). IVS = interventricular septum; LA = left atrium; LV = left ventricle.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 40 patients with juvenile-onset SLE suggests that cholecalciferol supplementation for 24 weeks is effective in decreasing disease activity and improving fatigue in these patients. Compared with the placebo group, patients receiving oral cholecalciferol 50,000 IU/week demonstrated significant improvement in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI) scores (P = 0.010) and European Consensus Lupus Activity Measurement (ECLAM) scores (P = 0.006), along with a reduction of fatigue related to social life, as measured by the Kids Fatigue Severity Scale (K-FSS) score (P = 0.008). [110]
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 40 patients with juvenile-onset SLE suggests that cholecalciferol supplementation for 24 weeks is effective in decreasing disease activity and improving fatigue in these patients. Compared with the placebo group, patients receiving oral cholecalciferol 50,000 IU/week demonstrated significant improvement in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI) scores (P = 0.010) and European Consensus Lupus Activity Measurement (ECLAM) scores (P = 0.006), along with a reduction of fatigue related to social life, as measured by the Kids Fatigue Severity Scale (K-FSS) score (P = 0.008). [110]
The clearance of early apoptotic cells is an important function in multicellular organisms. It leads to a progression of the apoptosis process and finally to secondary necrosis of the cells if this ability is disturbed. Necrotic cells release nuclear fragments as potential autoantigens, as well as internal danger signals, inducing maturation of dendritic cells (DCs), since they have lost their membranes' integrity. Increased appearance of apoptotic cells also stimulates inefficient clearance. That leads to maturation of DCs and also to the presentation of intracellular antigens of late apoptotic or secondary necrotic cells, via MHC molecules. Autoimmunity possibly results by the extended exposure to nuclear and intracellular autoantigens derived from late apoptotic and secondary necrotic cells. B and T cell tolerance for apoptotic cells is abrogated, and the lymphocytes get activated by these autoantigens; inflammation and the production of autoantibodies by plasma cells is initiated. A clearance deficiency in the skin for apoptotic cells has also been observed in people with cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE).[67]
While acute pain is a normal sensation triggered in the nervous system to alert you to possible injury and the need to take care of yourself, chronic pain is different. Chronic pain persists. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years. There may have been an initial mishap — sprained back, serious infection, or there may be an ongoing cause of pain — arthritis, cancer, ear infection, but some people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of body damage. Many chronic pain conditions affect older adults. Common chronic pain complaints include headache, low back pain, cancer pain, arthritis pain, neurogenic pain (pain resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves or to the central nervous system itself), psychogenic pain (pain not due to past disease or injury or any visible sign of damage inside or outside the nervous system). A person may have two or more co-existing chronic pain conditions. Such conditions can include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, interstitial cystitis, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and vulvodynia. It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.
Hormonal mechanisms could explain the increased incidence of SLE in females. The onset of SLE could be attributed to the elevated hydroxylation of estrogen and the abnormally decreased levels of androgens in females. In addition, differences in GnRH signalling have also shown to contribute to the onset of SLE. While females are more likely to relapse than males, the intensity of these relapses is the same for both sexes.[12]
Kidney inflammation in SLE (lupus nephritis) can cause leakage of protein into the urine, fluid retention, high blood pressure, and even kidney failure. This can lead to further fatigue and swelling (edema) of the legs and feet. With kidney failure, machines are needed to cleanse the blood of accumulated waste products in a process called dialysis.
Recent research has found an association between certain people with lupus (especially those with lupus nephritis) and an impairment in degrading neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). These were due to DNAse1 inhibiting factors, or NET protecting factors in people's serum, rather than abnormalities in the DNAse1 itself.[65] DNAse1 mutations in lupus have so far only been found in some Japanese cohorts.[66]
The gene is the basic physical unit of inheritance. Genes are passed from parents to offspring and contain the information needed to specify traits. Genes are arranged, one after another, on structures called chromosomes. A chromosome contains a single, long DNA molecule, only a portion of which corresponds to a single gene. Humans have approximately 20,000 genes arranged on their chromosomes.
It is important to understand that osteoporosis has no symptoms. There is no pain in the bones where individuals with osteoporosis would hypothetically feel sore, so it is important to speak with your doctor to have a regular bone mass density test performed. Again, there is a high risk of osteoporosis for people with lupus because of often decreased physical activity, vitamin D deficiency, medication side effects, and the additional risk of kidney disease. Listed below are nutritional tips to follow:
In recent years, mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) has been used as an effective medication for lupus, particularly when it is associated with kidney disease. CellCept has been helpful in reversing active lupus kidney disease (lupus renal disease) and in maintaining remission after it is established. Its lower side-effect profile has advantage over traditional immune-suppression medications.
Drug-Induced Lupus Erythematosus, like SLE, can affect many parts of the body. However, Drug-Induced Lupus is caused by an overreaction to certain medications. Studies have shown that removal of the medication may stop disease activity. Drugs most commonly connected with drug-induced lupus are those used to treat chronic conditions, such as seizures, high blood pressure or rheumatoid arthritis.
This diet is not intended for weight loss (although that can be a side effect). The anti-inflammatory diet is intended to provide steady energy, plenty of vitamins and minerals, and the essential fatty acids needed to maintain optimum health. You could look at this more like an eating plan for life as opposed to a diet per se. It is based on the general concept that eating to avoid inflammation promotes better health and can ward off diseases. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, the Harvard trained natural and preventative medicine physician (as seen on Oprah, and the Dr. Oz show,) there is clear evidence to support that inflammation can be very damaging to the body and he therefore openly supports the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. “We all know inflammation on the surface of the body as local redness, heat, swelling and pain. It is the cornerstone of the body’s healing response, bringing more nourishment and more immune activity to a site of injury or infection. But when inflammation persists or serves no purpose, it damages the body and causes illness. Stress, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, and exposure to toxins (like secondhand tobacco smoke) can all contribute to such chronic inflammation, but dietary choices play a big role as well.” Both he and Barry Sears, MD, the author of the well-known Zone Diet both agree that this diet can have significant positive results on many diseases. Here are the basics of the anti-inflammatory diet (all versions vary, but this is the general proposal for all:
These are low in nutrients and may also contribute to poor digestion, weight gain, inflammation and other symptoms. Most also contain gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, barley, rye and most flour-containing products. Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is common in those with autoimmune disorders because gluten can be difficult for many people to digest properly, increasing leaky gut syndrome and triggering symptom flare-ups. (6)
Inflammation associated with lupus and other autoimmune reactions largely stems from an overactive immune system and poor gut health. Leaky gut syndrome can develop in those with lupus, which results in small openings in the gut lining opening up, releasing particles into the bloodstream and kicking off an autoimmune cascade. This inflammatory process can wind up increasing the risk for many conditions, including heart disease or hypertension, weight gain, joint deterioration, and bone loss, just to name a few. (5)
It also is known that some women with systemic lupus erythematosus can experience worsening of their symptoms prior to their menstrual periods. This phenomenon, together with the female predominance of systemic lupus erythematosus, suggests that female hormones play an important role in the expression of SLE. This hormonal relationship is an active area of ongoing study by scientists.
The prognosis for those with lupus often depends on the amount of organ involvement. In other words, is the disease targeting organs rather than skin and joints? Survival for lupus patients with central nervous system symptoms, major organ involvement, and/or kidney disease, is likely to be shorter than those with only skin and/or joint disease related to lupus. The most common cause of death associated with lupus is an infection due to immunosuppression, caused by medications used to manage the disease, especially early in ​the disease.

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