In the United States, systemic lupus erythematosus is reported to be more common in women, particularly black women, than in white men.14,16 One U.S. retrospective study16 of medical records found that the disease is diagnosed 23 times more often in black women than in white men. The prevalence of the disease is also higher in Hispanic and Asian Americans.16 In addition, a familial predisposition to systemic lupus erythematosus has been identified.17-19
The EULAR recommendations indicate that in pregnant women with SLE, prednisolone, azathioprine, hydroxychloroquine (unnecessary discontinuation of hydroxychloroquine during pregnancy may result in lupus flares), and low-dose aspirin may be used. [61] Prednisone, prednisolone, and methylprednisolone are the corticosteroids of choice during pregnancy because of their minimal placental transfer. However, mycophenolate mofetil, cyclophosphamide, and methotrexate are strictly contraindicated. [61]
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus or any of the less common subtypes of lupus, you may be wondering about available treatment options and which ones may be right for you. Because lupus is a chronic disease, doctors work with you to manage symptoms — which can range from mild arthritis and rash to problems with the kidneys and other organs — using a variety of medications and therapies. And the best treatment approach for you might change over time as your symptoms and the condition changes.

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.
ANA = antinuclear antibody; CNS = central nervous system; ds-DNA = double-stranded DNA; ELISA = enzyme-linked immunoassay; ENA = extractable nuclear antigen; Ig = immunoglobulin; p-ANCA = perinuclear antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody; RBCs = red blood cells; RNP = ribonucleic protein; SLE = systemic lupus erythematosus; Sm = Smith; SSA = Sjögren syndrome A; SSB = Sjögren syndrome B.
A normal-range ANA titer in the context of organ system involvement that suggests systemic lupus erythematosus should prompt a work-up for alternative diagnoses. If no other cause is identified, the diagnosis of ANA-negative systemic lupus erythematosus and consultation with a rheumatologist should be considered. If patients with a normal ANA titer develop new clinical features that are consistent with systemic lupus erythematosus, ANA testing should be repeated.46 [Evidence level C, consensus/expert guidelines]
No overarching diet exists for people with lupus. However, lupus is a systemic disease, so maintaining good nutritional habits will help your body remain as healthy as possible. Generally, doctors recommend a diet composed of about 50% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 30% fat. However, since people with lupus often experience symptoms like weight loss or gain, inflammation, osteoporosis, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis, certain specific nutritional concerns may also need to be taken into consideration. If you need help managing your weight or making healthy food choices, please speak with your doctor. S/he can give you more specific information and refer you to a registered dietitian if needed.
As someone who has healed Lupus, I often get asked about the importance of diet. Several years ago I was diagnosed with lupus. I could barely get out of bed or walk, had a hard time holding a glass of juice due to joint pain, suffered from all over body muscle aches, endured a constant low grade fever, and itched uncontrollably on my arms with skin rash. I new my life, as I new it, was over. I was petrified.
Blood and urine tests. The antinuclear antibody (ANA) test can show if your immune system is more likely to make the autoantibodies of lupus. Most people with lupus test positive for ANA. But, a positive ANA does not always mean you have lupus. If you test positive for ANA, your doctor will likely order more tests for antibodies that are specific to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

16α-OH 16α-hydroxyestrone; 2-OH 2-hydroxyestrone; Akt protein kinase B; BAFF B-cell activating factor; EGCG epigallocatechin gallate; ER oestrogen receptor; EVOO extra virgin olive oil; FOXP3 forkhead box P3; I3C indole-3-carbinol; IFN interferon; LPS lipopolysaccharide; MRL Murphy Roths large; NZB/W New Zealand black/white; Nrf-2 nuclear factor E2-related factor 2; SLE systemic lupus erythematosus; Th T-helper; Treg regulatory T-cell; dsDNA double-stranded DNA; ppm parts per million; Diet; Immunomodulation; Lupus; Nutrients; Systemic lupus erythematosus
In patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the presence of antiphospholipid antibodies is common; depending on the assay, these antibodies have been reported in up to 30-50% of SLE patients. [137] Therefore, it is important to evaluate these patients for risk factors for thrombosis, such as use of estrogen-containing drugs, being a smoker, immobility, previous surgery, and the presence of severe infection or sepsis. [61] The European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) has noted that low-dose aspirin in individuals with SLE and antiphospholipid antibodies is potentially useful for primary prevention of thrombosis and pregnancy loss. [61]
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are helpful in reducing inflammation and pain in muscles, joints, and other tissues. Examples of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen (Naprosyn), and sulindac (Clinoril). Since the individual response to NSAIDs varies, it is common for a doctor to try different NSAIDs to find the most effective one with the fewest side effects. The most common side effects are stomach upset, abdominal pain, ulcers, and even ulcer bleeding. NSAIDs are usually taken with food to reduce side effects. Sometimes, medications that prevent ulcers while taking NSAIDs, such as misoprostol (Cytotec), are given simultaneously.
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.
In studies conducted so far, African American patients and patients of African heritage did not appear to respond significantly to belimumab. An additional study of this patient population is planned to evaluate belimumab further in this subgroup of lupus patients. However, this difference in response to a treatment may be another indicator of the various ways that the disease affects different patients.
Research indicates that omega 3 fatty acids from fish or fish oils may help manage high triglycerides and heart disease (see references at end of this summary). There have not been any studies, however, that show a reduced disease activity with lupus. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, mackerel, bluefish, herring, mullet, tuna, halibut, lake trout, rainbow trout, ground flaxseed, walnuts, pecans, canola oil, walnut oil, and flaxseed oil, and are part of a heart-healthy meal plan.
Avoid foods that cause food sensitivities or allergies. You must be tested for this in order to be sure of your bodies specific needs. Some tests do not indicate food sensitivities (such as to sugar, salt, etc.), so keep a journal of your body's reactions to foods. Eat a varied diet, rich with alkaline, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory foods. Always clean your food well, (including organic foods).
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.
A common neurological disorder people with SLE have is headache,[33] although the existence of a specific lupus headache and the optimal approach to headache in SLE cases remains controversial.[34] Other common neuropsychiatric manifestations of SLE include cognitive dysfunction, mood disorder, cerebrovascular disease,[33] seizures, polyneuropathy,[33] anxiety disorder, psychosis, depression, and in some extreme cases, personality disorders.[35] Steroid psychosis can also occur as a result of treating the disease.[31] It can rarely present with intracranial hypertension syndrome, characterized by an elevated intracranial pressure, papilledema, and headache with occasional abducens nerve paresis, absence of a space-occupying lesion or ventricular enlargement, and normal cerebrospinal fluid chemical and hematological constituents.[36]
One food for people with lupus to avoid is alfalfa. Alfalfa tablets have been associated with reports of a lupus-like syndrome or lupus flares. The lupus-like effects may include muscle pain, fatigue, abnormal blood test results, changes in how the immune system functions, and kidney problems. These reactions may be due to the amino acid L-canavanine (found in alfalfa seeds and sprouts, but not in leaves), which can activate the immune system and increase inflammation.
Lupus is not necessarily life threatening when treated appropriately. Up to 90 percent of patients will have a normal life expectancy if they are followed closely by their doctor and receive proper treatment. (4,5) Lupus can, however, increase mortality rates because patients have a higher risk of heart disease, infection or complications such as inflammation of the kidney, or nephritis, says Francis Luk, MD, an assistant professor of rheumatology and immunology, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Since SLE patients can have a wide variety of symptoms and different combinations of organ involvement, no single test establishes the diagnosis of systemic lupus. To help doctors improve the accuracy of the diagnosis of SLE, 11 criteria were established by the American Rheumatism Association. These 11 criteria are closely related to the symptoms discussed above. Some people suspected of having SLE may never develop enough criteria for a definite diagnosis. Other people accumulate enough criteria only after months or years of observation. When a person has four or more of these criteria, the diagnosis of SLE is strongly suggested. Nevertheless, the diagnosis of SLE may be made in some settings in people with only a few of these classical criteria, and treatment may sometimes be instituted at this stage. Of these people with minimal criteria, some may later develop other criteria, but many never do.
We acknowledge as a limitation that certainty of the evidence was not as high as desirable for most recommendations and probably biased by few randomised clinical trials. Although regional information was published on several topics1 4 10 11 23 24 31–49 we recognise that these guidelines should be updated as research-based changes in our understanding of SLE emerge. Regardless, the publication of these guidelines must be followed by health system engagement and implementation by specialists, major steps towards improvement of lupus treatment in Latin America and low/middle-income countries.
The diagnosis of lupus is best made by an experienced clinician who fully understands the disease and other diseases with similar features that can mimic lupus. The diagnosis is made when a patient has several features of the disease (including symptoms, findings on examination and blood test abnormalities). The American College of Rheumatology has devised criteria to assist clinicians in making the correct diagnosis of lupus.
In more severe cases, medications that modulate the immune system (primarily corticosteroids and immunosuppressants) are used to control the disease and prevent recurrence of symptoms (known as flares). Depending on the dosage, people who require steroids may develop Cushing's syndrome, symptoms of which may include obesity, puffy round face, diabetes mellitus, increased appetite, difficulty sleeping and osteoporosis. These may subside if and when the large initial dosage is reduced, but long-term use of even low doses can cause elevated blood pressure and cataracts.
Although no one symptom qualifies someone as having lupus, certain clinical techniques can be used to narrow down the diagnosis. For example, a test for antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) in the blood is probably the first tool a physician will use. A positive ANA test does not necessarily mean that someone has lupus; in fact, one out of five normal women has a positive ANA. However, a negative ANA test greatly reduces the suspicion.

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Along with nutritional deficiencies, steroid medications can cause significant weight gain and increased cholesterol, blood glucose, and triglycerides, further underscoring the need for patients with SLE who are taking these agents to follow a healthy diet to counter the effects.6 There are also specific things that individuals with SLE should avoid, including alfalfa sprouts and garlic, which can stimulate an already overactive immune system.7 
Systemic lupus erythematosus (S.L.E.), commonly called lupus, is a chronic autoimmune disorder that can affect virtually any organ of the body. In lupus, the body's immune system, which normally functions to protect against foreign invaders, becomes hyperactive, forming antibodies that attack normal tissues and organs, including the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, and blood. Lupus is characterized by periods of illness, called flares, and periods of wellness, or remission.
The diagnosis of lupus is best made by an experienced clinician who fully understands the disease and other diseases with similar features that can mimic lupus. The diagnosis is made when a patient has several features of the disease (including symptoms, findings on examination and blood test abnormalities). The American College of Rheumatology has devised criteria to assist clinicians in making the correct diagnosis of 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).
The first mechanism may arise genetically. Research indicates SLE may have a genetic link. SLE does run in families, but no single causal gene has been identified. Instead, multiple genes appear to influence a person's chance of developing lupus when triggered by environmental factors. HLA class I, class II, and class III genes are associated with SLE, but only classes I and II contribute independently to increased risk of SLE.[45] Other genes which contain risk variants for SLE are IRF5, PTPN22, STAT4,[46] CDKN1A,[47] ITGAM, BLK,[46] TNFSF4 and BANK1.[48] Some of the susceptibility genes may be population specific.[46]
Sometimes, changes in blood counts (low red cell count, or anemia), may cause fatigue, serious infections (low white cell count), or easy bruising or bleeding (low platelet count). Many patients do not have symptoms from low blood counts, however, so it is important for people with lupus to have periodic blood tests in order to detect any problems.

A normal-range ANA titer in the context of organ system involvement that suggests systemic lupus erythematosus should prompt a work-up for alternative diagnoses. If no other cause is identified, the diagnosis of ANA-negative systemic lupus erythematosus and consultation with a rheumatologist should be considered. If patients with a normal ANA titer develop new clinical features that are consistent with systemic lupus erythematosus, ANA testing should be repeated.46 [Evidence level C, consensus/expert guidelines]


The rate of SLE varies between countries, ethnicity, and sex, and changes over time.[95] In the United States, one estimate of the rate of SLE is 53 per 100,000;[95] other estimates range from 322,000 to over 1 million.[96] In Northern Europe the rate is about 40 per 100,000 people.[97] SLE occurs more frequently and with greater severity among those of non-European descent.[96] That rate has been found to be as high as 159 per 100,000 among those of Afro-Caribbean descent.[95] Childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus generally presents between the ages of 3 and 15 and is four times more common in girls.[98]
Lupus can cause problems with the blood, too, including anemia, or low red blood cell count. Anemia can cause symptoms such as weakness and fatigue. (14) Thrombocytopenia is another blood disorder that may develop, resulting in lower platelet counts. (Platelets are the blood cells that help the blood clot.) Symptoms of thrombocytopenia can include bruising easily, nosebleeds, and petechiae, when the blood appears as red pinpoints under the skin. (15)
Women with lupus have a higher risk of miscarriage and preterm labor, says Kaplan. Pregnant women with lupus also have a higher risk of preeclampsia, or high blood pressure, and signs that the kidneys and liver may not be functioning well. (20) If you have lupus and do get pregnant (or if you have lupus and are trying to get pregnant), see a high-risk maternal-fetal medicine specialist who has expertise in how to best handle such pregnancies.
Similarly, a phase III trial of 819 SLE patients who were positive for either antinuclear antibody or anti–double-stranded DNA at baseline screening found that IV belimumab at 10 mg/kg plus standard therapy resulted in a significantly greater SRI score (43.2%) than placebo (33.5%) at 1 year (those who received belimumab 1 mg/kg plus standard therapy had a 40.6% response rate). [118] Overall, the addition of belimumab to standard therapy reduced SLE disease activity and severe flares, and the medication was well tolerated. [118]
Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation, creates a wide range of signs and symptoms. Systemic lupus erythematosus, the most common form of the condition, can potentially involve any major organ system of the body, says Neil Kramer, MD, co-medical director at the Institute for Rheumatic and Autoimmune Diseases at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, New Jersey. “Therefore, the first signs and symptoms vary from patient to patient.”

Symptoms, causes, and treatment of chronic kidney disease Chronic kidney disease or failure is a progressive loss of kidney function that sometimes occurs over many years. Often the symptoms are not noticeable until the disease is well advanced, so it is essential that people who are at risk of developing kidney problems, such as those with diabetes, have regular check-ups. Read now
The underlying trigger to develop these antibodies in lupus is unknown, although experts believe that a combination of genetic, environmental, and possibly hormonal factors are involved. The fact that lupus can run in families suggests that there is a genetic basis for its development, but so far no single “lupus gene” has been identified. Experts suspect that several different genes may be involved in determining an individual’s chance of developing the disease, as well as which tissues and organs are affected, and how severe the disease will be if it does occur. Other factors being investigated as contributing to the onset of lupus are overexposure to sunlight, stress, certain drugs, and viruses and other infectious agents.
The theory is that eating foods that contain gut-irritating compounds causes a ‘leaky-gut’ which means that any of the non-recommended foods are not able to be digested properly, passing large pieces from the intestines directly into your blood stream.  Your body sees these as foreign substances and begins to activate the immune system which will, in turn, attack not only these substances, but the body. This, according to Paleo supporters, leads to immune disorders. The Paleo diet does exclude several large food groups and encourages a high consumption of animal fats. In some cases, this may not be the best choice for an individual’s health. Back to top
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.
An antibody, produced by B cells in response to an altered autoantigen on one type of the body’s own cells, that attacks and destroys these cells. Autoantibodies are the basis for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes mellitus. Several theories exist about why autoantibodies are formed. The most common theory proposes that AAbs develop as the result of a combination of hereditary and environmental risk factors that cause an autoantigen to be falsely recognized as alien by B cells; as a result, antibodies are produced for its destruction.

For resistant skin disease, other antimalarial drugs, such as chloroquine (Aralen) or quinacrine, are considered and can be used in combination with hydroxychloroquine. Alternative medications for skin disease include dapsone and retinoic acid (Retin-A). Retin-A is often effective for an uncommon wart-like form of lupus skin disease. For more severe skin disease, immunosuppressive medications are considered as described below.
EULAR recommendations for the management of SLE with neuropsychiatric manifestations support the evaluation and treatment of these symptoms in the same way as they are evaluated and treated in patients without SLE; if symptoms persist, management of these symptoms as an extension of SLE should be considered. [83, 61] For example, in patients with neuropsychiatric manifestations that may have an inflammatory etiology, immunosuppressive agents may be considered. [61]

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) established eleven criteria in 1982,[73] which were revised in 1997[74] as a classificatory instrument to operationalise the definition of SLE in clinical trials. They were not intended to be used to diagnose individuals and do not do well in that capacity. For the purpose of identifying people for clinical studies, a person has SLE if any 4 out of 11 symptoms are present simultaneously or serially on two separate occasions.

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.


Before drinking alcohol, first double-check with your doctor to make sure that it is not forbidden with your medicines. Prednisone, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, antidepressants, opioids, warfarin and methotrexate can potentially have more side effects if taken with alcohol. If you do drink alcohol it is very important to drink only in moderation.
Lupus is treated by internal medicine subspecialists called rheumatologists. Depending on whether or not specific organs are targeted, other health specialists who can be involved in the care of patients with lupus include dermatologists, nephrologists, hematologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists, and neurologists. It's not uncommon that a team of such physicians is coordinated by the treating rheumatologist together with the primary care doctor.
The monoclonal antibody belimumab (Benlysta), a B-lymphocyte stimulator–specific inhibitor, has been found to reduce disease activity and possibly decrease the number of severe flares and steroid use in patients with SLE when used in combination with standard therapy. [114] In March, 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of belimumab in combination with standard therapies (including steroids, nonbiologic DMARDS [eg, hydroxychloroquine, azathioprine, methotrexate]) to treat active autoantibody-positive SLE. [115]  In July 2017, a subcutaneous (SC) formulation was approved that allows patients to self-administer a once-weekly dose. [162]

Once a lupus diagnosis has been confirmed by your physician, you will have many questions.  Here is a quick list of questions to help you get started in getting the necessary information in order to have a better understanding of your specific symptoms and move forward towards the most successful course of treatment and/or management of the disease. It may also be helpful to have an advocate along with you like a friend or loved one to help you remember important details:


The cause of SLE is not clear.[1] It is thought to involve genetics together with environmental factors.[4] Among identical twins, if one is affected there is a 24% chance the other one will be as well.[1] Female sex hormones, sunlight, smoking, vitamin D deficiency, and certain infections, are also believed to increase the risk.[4] The mechanism involves an immune response by autoantibodies against a person's own tissues.[1] These are most commonly anti-nuclear antibodies and they result in inflammation.[1] Diagnosis can be difficult and is based on a combination of symptoms and laboratory tests.[1] There are a number of other kinds of lupus erythematosus including discoid lupus erythematosus, neonatal lupus, and subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus.[1]


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.

MRI (or magnetic resonance imaging) scan is a radiology technique which uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce images of body structures. MRI scanning is painless and does not involve X-ray radiation. Patients with heart pacemakers, metal implants, or metal chips or clips in or around the eyes cannot be scanned with MRI because of the effect of the magnet.

Heart: If inflammation affects the heart, it can result in myocarditis and endocarditis. It can also affect the membrane that surrounds the heart, causing pericarditis. Chest pain or other symptoms may result. Endocarditis can damage the heart valves, causing the valve surface to thicken and develop. This can result in growths that can lead to heart murmurs.


Individual test results can also vary from one visit to another, which can be very confusing.  A doctor will take into consideration a combination of factors as well as the test results when diagnosing lupus, and because of this, we encourage you inquire about the ANA and DNA testing, which doctors are often reluctant to give.  These two tests together can create a clearer picture of whether the diagnosis could be lupus.  Again, we must remind you that just because you test negative today, it does not mean that you won’t test positive tomorrow.
Get involved in your care. Learn as much as you can about lupus, your medications, and what kind of progress to expect. Take all your medications as your doctor prescribes, and visit your rheumatologist often to prevent serious problems. This lets your doctor keep track of your disease and change your treatment as needed. If you do not live near a rheumatologist, you may need to have your primary care doctor manage your lupus with the help of a rheumatologist.

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