The Truth About Treating Lupus

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What you Need to Know about Medication Choices for Lupus

Did you know that no two cases of systemic lupus erythematosus are alike? The symptoms of lupus, an autoimmune disorder that can affect nearly any organ system in the body, can vary dramatically in severity.  Lupus commonly affects the skin, joints, blood cells, and kidneys. Of those diagnosed, 9 out of 10 are women. Patients of African American, Asian or Hispanic descent are at greater risk for developing lupus.

Depending on a patient’s symptoms, rheumatologists rely on a variety of medication choices to treat lupus, some of which are also used to treat other diseases, like cancer. For example, the following medications are used to treat lupus as well as other conditions:

  • Hydroxychloroquine – A medication that is commonly used to treat lupus symptoms. This drug was originally used to treat malaria.
  • Methotrexate – A medication used to treat the joint pain and swelling from arthritis due to lupus. This medication is also used in high doses to treat certain forms of cancer.
  • Cyclophosphamide – A medication that may be used to treat severe cases of lupus causing inflammation of the kidneys, heart, blood vessels or brain. This medication is also used to treat certain forms of cancer.

Common Medication Misconceptions

Because rheumatologists may choose to treat lupus patients with a medication that can also be used to treat cancer, some people may have the misconception that Lupus is a form of cancer. Rather, lupus patients may receive these medications to treat a completely different health condition. Rheumatologists are fortunate to utilize such medicines for other purposes to ensure the best health outcomes for patients with Lupus.

There are many medication regimens that are used to treat Lupus. If you have any questions regarding the medication you are currently taking to treat lupus, please speak to your health care provider.


Levine-Alana-bioDr. Alana Levine is a rheumatologist at Hospital for Special Surgery. She specializes in rheumatic autoimmune diseases including systemic lupus erythematosus, antiphospholipid syndrome, undifferentiated connective tissue disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.


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  1. I started at a Rheumatologist a year ago due to a abnormal blood test , I the Lupus area. Been having blood tests approx every 2 to 3 months . Results she said are borderline. The worst part is days of fatigue almost income passages . I was always at work 5/6 am and work 7/9 pm I’m frustrated, my golf + social life down if I can get up I take hydyooxycordque and adaral plus coffee Quality of life , to be this tired and nausa , I’m confused. She said something might be brewing just wait and see . I had steroids twice . Not sure if they worked . When I do get to work they say I don’t look sick . When I’m in bed until 4pm I do look beat. I canceled many socials . Today laid in bed until 12noon got up took med. & coffee and doubled the anphitame. Went to work and could have gone out , in which I cancelled yesterday. I never know how I’m going to feel . Age 71 thank you

  2. I would like to know how to remove the gained weight from steroids. I gained 100kg!!!! KILOGRAMS not pounds. 🙁 I also have a hard time moving that’s why I consider myself having a sedimentary lifestyle

    1. “I’m sorry to hear that. As you well know, steroids do cause weight gain. The first requirement to lose weight is to reduce and, if possible, stop taking the drugs. After that there is no magic other than restricting what you eat and increasing your activity. If you can, work with a nutritionist and a physical therapist.” – Dr. Michael Lockshin, Rheumatologist

  3. Is bechetts syndrome a form of lupus? My sister has lupus, my daughter has bechetts and my deceased mother had autoimmune diseases. Is there a genetic linking think there is.

    1. Hi Tracy, thank you for reaching out. Dr. Michael Lockshin, Rheumatologist, says: “Bechet’s is not a form of lupus, though it has many similarities to lupus. Like lupus, it is an autoimmune disease. Bechet’s is very uncommon in the United States; it is mostly seen in the Middle East and Japan. While not generally associated in the United States (perhaps because it is so rare here), because autoimmune diseases tend to run in families, it is probably not a coincidence that your mother, daughter and sister have these illnesses.”