The aim of this review is to provide an up-to-date overview of treatment approaches for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), highlighting the multiplicity and heterogeneity of clinical symptoms that underlie therapeutic decisions. Discussion will focus on the spectrum of currently available therapies, their mechanisms and associated side-effects. Finally, recent developments with biologic treatments including rituximab, epratuzumab, tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, and belimumab, will be discussed.
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:
Contraception and family planning are important considerations given the risks of disease flare with exogenous estrogens and pregnancy and with the teratogenic risks of some SLE drugs. Estrogen therapies have typically been avoided to prevent disease flares; progesterone-only contraception is more often considered. [144] However, studies have suggested that oral estrogen-containing contraceptives may not be associated with disease flares or thrombosis risk in patients with mild lupus without antiphospholipid antibodies. [52, 145]
The loss of self-tolerance is believed to be due to many hereditary and environmental factors and occurs when autoantigens are damaged, when they link with a foreign antigen, when the structure of a autoantigen is very similar to that of a foreign antigen (molecular mimicry), or when autoreactive T cells are not adequately controlled or are activated by nonspecific antigens. The changes in the appearance of the autoantigen or activation of autoreactive T-cells result in autoantigens being perceived as foreign. Inflammation and destruction of the tissues bearing the antigen occur because of the production of autoantibodies by B cells or the cytotoxicity of autoreactive T cells, which attack the autoantigens.
While there’s no one dietary program that can cure or treat lupus for all patients, a healthy lupus diet can go a long way in preventing flare-ups and decreasing complications. Molly’s Fund for Fighting Lupus states that a healthy diet is needed to prevent nutrient deficiencies, maintain strength and energy, combat medication side effects, maintain a healthy weight, and protect the heart. (4)
Most all studies (such as the paleo and anti-inflammatory diets), are fairly in line with their recommendations. Funny enough, these dietary recommendations are for the general populous as well! So it’s not just people with lupus who should be re-aligning dietary thinking.  However, as lupus is an inflammatory disease, it only makes sense that eating an anti-inflammatory diet, one rich in vitamins, iron, antioxidants and fish, also including the following suggestions, would be prudent.
With variants known as discoid lupus, subacute cutaneous lupus, and systemic lupus erythematosus, lupus is one of several disorders of the immune system considered “autoimmune” in nature. These diseases occur when the immune system malfunctions and turns its infection-defense capabilities against the body, producing antibodies against healthy cells and tissues. These antibodies promote chronic inflammation and can damage organs and tissues. In lupus, these antibodies are known as antinuclear antibodies (ANA) because they target parts of the cell’s nucleus. Experts don’t yet fully understand all of the factors and triggers that cause inflammation and tissue damage in lupus, and research is ongoing.
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.
The modern period, beginning in 1920, saw major developments in research into the cause and treatment of discoid and systemic lupus. Research conducted in the 1920s and 1930s led to the first detailed pathologic descriptions of lupus and demonstrated how the disease affected the kidney, heart, and lung tissue.[115] A major breakthrough was made in 1948 with the discovery of the LE cell (the lupus erythematosus cell—a misnomer, as it occurs with other diseases as well). Discovered by a team of researchers at the Mayo Clinic, they discovered that the white blood cells contained the nucleus of another cell that was pushing against the white's cell proper nucleus.[116] Noting that the invading nucleus was coated with antibody that allowed it to be ingested by a phagocytic or scavenger cell, they named the antibody that causes one cell to ingest another the LE factor and the two nuclei cell result in the LE cell.[117] The LE cell, it was determined, was a part of an anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) reaction; the body produces antibodies against its own tissue. This discovery led to one of the first definitive tests for lupus since LE cells are found in approximately 60% of all people diagnosed with lupus.[118] The LE cell test is rarely performed as a definitive lupus test today as LE cells do not always occur in people with SLE and can occur in individuals with other autoimmune diseases. Their presence can be helpful in establishing a diagnosis but no longer indicates a definitive SLE diagnosis.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are used preventively to reduce the incidence of flares, the progress of the disease, and the need for steroid use; when flares occur, they are treated with corticosteroids. DMARDs commonly in use are antimalarials such as hydroxychloroquine and immunosuppressants (e.g. methotrexate and azathioprine). Hydroxychloroquine is an FDA-approved antimalarial used for constitutional, cutaneous, and articular manifestations. Hydroxychloroquine has relatively few side effects, and there is evidence that it improves survival among people who have SLE.[83] Cyclophosphamide is used for severe glomerulonephritis or other organ-damaging complications. Mycophenolic acid is also used for treatment of lupus nephritis, but it is not FDA-approved for this indication, and FDA is investigating reports that it may be associated with birth defects when used by pregnant women.[86]

Why the test is used: Abnormalities in blood cell counts, including white blood cells and red blood cells, may occur in people with lupus. This may be related to the lupus, lupus treatments, or infection. For example, leukopenia, a decrease in the number of white blood cells, is found in about 50% of people with lupus. Thrombocytopenia, or a low platelet count, occurs in about 50% of people with lupus, as well. Doctors can use this test to monitor these potentially serious problems.


In addition to the oral antimalarial hydroxychloroquine, doctors may prescribe topical steroids for lupus rash. Steroids or antimalarials may also be injected directly into rash lesions. (8) Topical creams containing tacrolimus or pimecrolimus that modulate the skin’s immune response may help manage lupus rash. Oral thalidomide, which affects the immune response, may be prescribed if other therapies don’t work. Doctors may also recommend that people with lupus rash avoid the sun and other ultraviolet light sources and wear sunscreen.
People with lupus have a higher risk of CAD. This is partly because people with lupus have more CAD risk factors, which may include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. The inflammation that accompanies lupus also increases the risk of developing CAD. People with lupus are often less active because of fatigue, joint problems, and/or muscle pain, and this also puts them at risk.

At Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI), research programs study the cells which regulate lupus to further understand disease pathogenesis - or the development of the disease – translating these findings into therapeutic targets. In addition, clinical trials are ongoing to evaluate novel therapies in this disease. BRI has a Clinical Research Registry people can join to learn about clinical trials that may be appropriate for them.


It is estimated that more than 1.5 million Americans have lupus. African American women are three times more likely than white women to have it. Hispanic, Asian and Native American women also have a higher incidence of lupus. People of all ages, races and sexes can get lupus, but 9 out of 10 adults with the disease are women between the ages of 15 and 45.
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]
While the onset and persistence of SLE can show disparities between genders, socioeconomic status also plays a major role. Women with SLE and of lower socioeconomic status have been shown to have higher depression scores, higher body mass index, and more restricted access to medical care than women of higher socioeconomic statuses with the illness. People with SLE had more self-reported anxiety and depression scores if they were from a lower socioeconomic status.[99]
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.
"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.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are used preventively to reduce the incidence of flares, the progress of the disease, and the need for steroid use; when flares occur, they are treated with corticosteroids. DMARDs commonly in use are antimalarials such as hydroxychloroquine and immunosuppressants (e.g. methotrexate and azathioprine). Hydroxychloroquine is an FDA-approved antimalarial used for constitutional, cutaneous, and articular manifestations. Hydroxychloroquine has relatively few side effects, and there is evidence that it improves survival among people who have SLE.[83] Cyclophosphamide is used for severe glomerulonephritis or other organ-damaging complications. Mycophenolic acid is also used for treatment of lupus nephritis, but it is not FDA-approved for this indication, and FDA is investigating reports that it may be associated with birth defects when used by pregnant women.[86]
Neuropsychiatric syndromes can result when SLE affects the central or peripheral nervous system. The American College of Rheumatology defines 19 neuropsychiatric syndromes in systemic lupus erythematosus.[30] The diagnosis of neuropsychiatric syndromes concurrent with SLE (now termed as NPSLE),[31] is one of the most difficult challenges in medicine, because it can involve so many different patterns of symptoms, some of which may be mistaken for signs of infectious disease or stroke.[32]
Because some treatments may cause harmful side effects, it is important to report any new symptoms to the doctor promptly. It is also important not to stop or change treatments without talking to the doctor first. In addition to medications for lupus itself, in many cases it may be necessary to take additional medications to treat problems related to lupus such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or infection.

“NHS dieticians seem to specialise in those struggling to lose (rather than gain) weight in my experience. On my initial consultation I was given a booklet with advice based on eating a full English breakfast, then snacks like doughnuts and pork pies. My sons would be thrilled to get medical advice to eat like that! The nutritional supplements they offer taste extremely artificial to me. I can only eat a little and very slowly, so get to ‘savour’ every sip of it. I’m trying protein shakes I buy myself, which taste better, but just one of those is very filling.”
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.
The antinuclear antibody (ANA) test is used to detect autoantibodies that react against components of the nucleus of the body's cells. It's currently one of the most sensitive diagnostic tests available for diagnosing lupus (SLE). That's because 97 percent or more of people with lupus (SLE) have a positive ANA test result. A negative ANA test result means lupus (SLE) is unlikely. 
“The most surprising result from this study was that the combination of the two metabolic inhibitors was necessary to reverse disease, when it could have been predicted based on models published by others that either one alone would work,” said study co-author Laurence Morel, Ph.D., director of experimental pathology and a professor of pathology, immunology, and laboratory medicine in the University of Florida College of Medicine, in an email to Healthline.
Because lupus can produce a variety of symptoms in different individuals, it may take some time for a physician to actually make the diagnosis. Often a doctor will say that lupus might be present, but that the current symptoms are insufficient to signify a firm diagnosis. In this event, s/he will likely monitor the patient’s symptoms, signs, and lab tests closely over time and have him/her return for regular visits.

Jump up ^ Henderson, LA; Loring, SH; Gill, RR; Liao, KP; Ishizawar, R; Kim, S; Perlmutter-Goldenson, R; Rothman, D; Son, MB; Stoll, ML; Zemel, LS; Sandborg, C; Dellaripa, PF; Nigrovic, PA (March 2013). "Shrinking lung syndrome as a manifestation of pleuritis: a new model based on pulmonary physiological studies". The Journal of Rheumatology. 40 (3): 273–81. doi:10.3899/jrheum.121048. PMC 4112073. PMID 23378468.
Unfortunately, there are no widely accepted diagnostic criteria for SLE. However, many doctors use the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 11 common criteria. These criteria were designed to identify subjects for research studies, so they are very stringent. If you currently have four or more of these criteria or if you've had them in the past, chances are very high that you have SLE. However, having less than four doesn't rule out SLE. Again, additional testing may be necessary to inform a formal diagnosis. These criteria include:
On my first (and last) visit to the rheumatologist I asked what I could do to support my health or to avoid a worsening my lupus symptoms. She casually responded "Come back when you're worse and I'll put you on steroids". Straining to get some kind of supportive information I mustered up a question about diet and if there were foods I should eat or avoid. Her response was, "continue to eat whatever you want, it won't make a difference".
In SLE patients with serious brain (lupus cerebritis) or kidney disease (lupus nephritis), plasmapheresis is sometimes used to remove antibodies and other immune substances from the blood to suppress immunity. Plasmapheresis is a process of removing blood and passing the blood through a filtering machine, then returning the blood to the body with its antibodies removed. Rarely, people with SLE can develop seriously low platelet levels, thereby increasing the risk of excessive and spontaneous bleeding. Since the spleen is believed to be the major site of platelet destruction, surgical removal of the spleen is sometimes performed to improve platelet levels. Other treatments have included plasmapheresis and the use of male hormones.

Elevation of the antinuclear antibody (ANA) titer to 1:40 or higher is the most sensitive of the ACR diagnostic criteria. More than 99 percent of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus have an elevated ANA titer at some point,21,41 although a significant proportion of patients may have a negative ANA titer early in the disease.2 However, the ANA test is not specific for systemic lupus erythematosus. A study41 involving 15 international laboratories found that ANA tests in the general population were positive in 32 percent of persons at a 1:40 dilution and in 5 percent of persons at a 1:160 dilution. Rates of positive ANA tests were not affected by age up to 60 years (the upper age limit of the study).41
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)
Elevation of the antinuclear antibody (ANA) titer to 1:40 or higher is the most sensitive of the ACR diagnostic criteria. More than 99 percent of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus have an elevated ANA titer at some point,21,41 although a significant proportion of patients may have a negative ANA titer early in the disease.2 However, the ANA test is not specific for systemic lupus erythematosus. A study41 involving 15 international laboratories found that ANA tests in the general population were positive in 32 percent of persons at a 1:40 dilution and in 5 percent of persons at a 1:160 dilution. Rates of positive ANA tests were not affected by age up to 60 years (the upper age limit of the study).41
Analgesics, or pain relievers, are medicines that reduce or relieve headaches, sore muscles, arthritis, or other aches and pains. There are many different pain medicines, and each one has advantages and risks. Some types of pain respond better to certain medicines than others. Each person may also have a slightly different response to a pain reliever.

The complement system is the name of a group of blood proteins that help fight infection. Complement levels, as the name implies, measure the amount and/or activity of those proteins. Working within the immune system, the proteins also play a role in the development of inflammation. In some forms of lupus, complement proteins are consumed (used up) by the autoimmune response. A decrease in complement levels can point toward lupus nephritis, lupus nephritis, kidney inflammation. Normalization of complement levels can indicate a favorable response to treatment.
If your CBC comes back with high numbers of RBCs or a high hematocrit, it could indicate a number of other issues including lung disease, blood cancers, dehydration, kidney disease, congenital heart disease, and other heart problems. High WBCs, called leukocytosis, may indicate an infectious disease, inflammatory disease, leukemia, stress, and more. 

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder that causes extreme fatigue. This fatigue is not the kind of tired feeling that goes away after you rest. Instead, it lasts a long time and limits your ability to do ordinary daily activities. The main symptom of CFS is severe fatigue that lasts for 6 months or more. You also have at least four of these other symptoms:
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.
Proteinuria (also called albuminuria or urine albumin) is a condition in which urine contains an abnormal amount of protein. Albumin is the main protein in the blood. Proteins are the building blocks for all body parts, including muscles, bones, hair, and nails. Proteins in the blood also perform a number of important functions. They protect the body from infection, help blood clot, and keep the right amount of fluid circulating throughout the body.
In a study published in 2015, patients with SLE were referred for nutrition counseling with a registered dietician (RD), and 41 of 71 referrals participated in the sessions.8 At the end of the 6-month period, the patients who received nutrition counseling were more likely to have lost weight; decreased their intake of foods high in fat, sodium, and calories; and increased their consumption of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and fish.
The severity of lupus varies from mild to life threatening. Kidney problems and neurologic complications are more dangerous than the rashes, arthritis or other symptoms. After many years of having lupus, patients may develop hypertension (high blood pressure), accelerated atherosclerosis (plaque and fat build-up in the arteries), heart and lung diseases, kidney failure or osteoporosis. With proper treatment, the majority of people diagnosed with lupus have a normal life expectancy, but many will experience disabilities. Each patient will likely have his or her own specific pattern of symptoms and flares, but the disease can change over time.
For reasons that doctors still don't understand, the immune system sometimes becomes confused, attacking the body itself, a condition known as autoimmune disease. With lupus,the immune system can attack any organ of the body, including the kidneys and brain, although skin and joints are often most affected, he said. Like many autoimmune diseases, it's more common in women.
Other tests for lupus depend on the symptoms patients are experiencing, says Kaplan. For example, chest X-rays and echocardiograms may be necessary to investigate fluid around the lungs and the heart. If doctors suspect nephritis is present, the patient may need a kidney biopsy. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to avoid complications, he adds.
Research is indicating benefits of rituximab (Rituxan) in treating lupus. Rituximab is an intravenously infused antibody that suppresses a particular white blood cell, the B cell, by decreasing their number in the circulation. B cells have been found to play a central role in lupus activity, and when they are suppressed, the disease tends toward remission. This may particularly helpful for people with kidney disease.
The panel judged the observed reduction in pregnancy loss with the addition of heparin to LDA as a large benefit. This intervention was not associated with significant harms. The addition of GCs or intravenous Ig to heparin plus LDA was associated with large harms (significant increase in premature delivery) without relevant benefits. Regarding heparin administration, the panel considered the reduction in pregnancy loss with low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) in comparison with unfractionated heparin (UFH) as a large benefit without significant adverse effects. No additional benefits were observed with LMWH-enoxaparin 80 mg compared with 40 mg.
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:
“I tend to suffer from fatigue. About a year ago I made some changes to my diet; I cut out as many processed foods as I could and now start the day with porridge with blue/red fruits (i.e. blackberries, blueberries or cranberries). I now go to bed and get up at the same times every day and I started walking everyday too. I feel much better and sleep better too.”

Corticosteroids. Prednisone and other types of corticosteroids can counter the inflammation of lupus. High doses of steroids such as methylprednisolone (A-Methapred, Medrol) are often used to control serious disease that involves the kidneys and brain. Side effects include weight gain, easy bruising, thinning bones (osteoporosis), high blood pressure, diabetes and increased risk of infection. The risk of side effects increases with higher doses and longer term therapy.

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Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.

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