Immunosuppressive Medications Immunosuppressives are medications that help suppress the immune system. Many were originally used in patients who received organ transplants to help prevent their bodies from rejecting the transplanted organ. However, these drugs are now also used for the treatment of certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterized by acute and chronic inflammation of various tissues of the body. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body's tissues are attacked by its own immune system. The immune system is a complex system within the body that is designed to fight infectious agents, such as bacteria and other foreign microbes. One of the ways that the immune system fights infections is by producing antibodies that bind to the microbes. People with lupus produce abnormal antibodies in their blood that target tissues within their own body rather than foreign infectious agents. These antibodies are referred to as autoantibodies.
The body’s tolerance of the antigens present on its own cells, i.e., autoantigens or self-antigens. It is theorized that autoreactive T lymphocytes are destroyed in the thymus by negative selection or in peripheral blood. Autoreactive T cells that escape destruction in the thymus may become tolerant because they are exposed to thousands of autoantigens as they circulate in the blood.
If your doctor suspects you have lupus, he or she will focus on your RBC and WBC counts. Low RBC counts are frequently seen in autoimmune diseases like lupus. However, low RBC counts can also indicate blood loss, bone marrow failure, kidney disease, hemolysis (RBC destruction), leukemia, malnutrition, and more. Low WBC counts can point toward lupus as well as bone marrow failure and liver and spleen disease.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), also known simply as lupus, is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body.[1] Symptoms vary between people and may be mild to severe.[1] Common symptoms include painful and swollen joints, fever, chest pain, hair loss, mouth ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, feeling tired, and a red rash which is most commonly on the face.[1] Often there are periods of illness, called flares, and periods of remission during which there are few symptoms.[1]
Symptoms vary from person to person, but the typical lupus patient is a young woman experiencing fever, swollen lymph nodes (glands), butterfly-shaped rash on her face, arthritis of the fingers, wrists or other small joints, hair loss, chest pain and protein in the urine. Symptoms usually begin in only one or two areas of the body, but more may develop over time. The most common signs and symptoms of lupus are:
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).
If cyclophosphamide doesn’t work for patients with lupus nephritis, they now have the option of trying another drug, and more options are being tested in clinical trials, says Dr. Caricchio. For example, doctors may use CellCept (mycophenolate mofetil), Imuran (azathioprine), or Restasis (cyclosporine). Prograf (tacrolimus) may also be an effective option for lupus nephritis, according to study data appearing in the January 2016 edition of Autoimmunity Reviews. (5)
The body’s tolerance of the antigens present on its own cells, i.e., autoantigens or self-antigens. It is theorized that autoreactive T lymphocytes are destroyed in the thymus by negative selection or in peripheral blood. Autoreactive T cells that escape destruction in the thymus may become tolerant because they are exposed to thousands of autoantigens as they circulate in the blood.
Corticosteroids may also be used to get rid of lupus flares, or the appearance of symptoms after a period of remission, says Francis Luk, MD, an assistant professor of rheumatology and immunology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Depending on severity and type of flare and how many flares the patient has recently experienced, rheumatologists may adjust medications,” he adds.

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