Lupus

1.5M

Americans and 5 Million people worldwide are living with lupus.

1 in 3

lupus patients suffers from multiple autoimmune diseases.

63%

of people with lupus have been incorrectly diagnosed, of those people over half have seen four or more healthcare providers before being accurately diagnosed.

What is lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune condition. Autoimmune conditions occur when the body’s immune system mistakes its own tissues for foreign invaders, like a bacteria or virus. The confused immune system springs into action, using antibodies to destroy the “invaders” in the tissues. [1]

The most common of these antibodies among people who have lupus is an antinuclear antibody (ANA). The ANA can enter your cells and attack their DNA, which results in damage, inflammation, and pain to the tissues and organs.

Who is affected?

Anyone can be diagnosed with lupus, but it is more common in women than men. The condition is generally diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 45. [1] Lupus is more common in Black, Latino, and Asian Americans, and people with lower socio-economic status. [2]

Researchers believe that lupus results from a combination of factors, but mostly your genetics and environment. Examples of environmental triggers include sunlight, infections, and medications. [1]

What happens in your body?

Not everybody has the same symptoms, and not all individuals with lupus have the same severity of the condition.

Common symptoms of lupus include [1]: 

  • Pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints and muscle
    • Common areas for muscle pain include the thighs, neck, shoulders, and upper arms.
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever
  • Butterfly-shaped rash on the face, across the nose and cheeks, or rashes elsewhere on the body
  • Chest pain and shortness of breath
  • Dry eyes
  • Headaches, confusion, and memory loss
  • Sun or light sensitivity that can cause skin lesions, such as rashes
  • Mouth sores

How do I know if I have lupus?

In its early stages, lupus symptoms are similar to the symptoms of other conditions. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible to make sure that the condition does not worsen. The best way to do this is by visiting your doctor and, if possible, getting a referral to visit a rheumatologist, a doctor with specialized training in treating lupus. 

No one test can diagnose lupus, but some ways that your doctor can assess whether you have the condition is through learning about your symptoms, and conducting a physical examination and lab tests (such as imaging tests or biopsies).

How is it treated?

There is no known cure for lupus, but integrative interventions have shown to reduce pain and discomfort and improve quality of life by slowing the condition’s progression and easing the severity of symptoms. [3]

Integrative interventions offer a holistic approach to treatment. Instead of just conventional medicine, integrative treatments combine conventional medicine with nutritional tools, mind-body medicine, and manual medicine for a holistic approach to treating lupus.

For those new to integrative medicine, learn more here

Conventional Medicine

Many people with lupus find that certain medications work for them and others do not. So, in order to find an effective conventional treatment, people with lupus often work with their doctors to determine which medication works best with their body and needs. 

With the right medication, it is possible to manage symptoms like pain and inflammation and prevent the rapid worsening of the condition. Before starting to take any medication, be sure to ask your doctor about possible side effects. And if you notice any of the side effects once you start your treatment, let your doctor know as soon as possible.

Examples of conventional treatments:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (common name: ibuprofen), or NSAIDs, are commonly used treatments for inflammation and pain resulting from lupus). [1]

  • Glucocorticoids (also known as corticosteroids) are steroid drugs that can be taken by mouth or injection, and are meant to start working immediately to reduce inflammation caused by lupus. [1]

  • Biologics (also known as biologic response modifiers) are a class of drugs used to treat lupus. [1]

  • Antimalarial drugs were originally used to treat and prevent malaria. They can also treat lupus by reducing flares, muscle and joint pain, skin lesions, certain forms of inflammation, fatigue, and fever. For some patients, these drugs can prevent the condition from spreading to vital organs like the kidney. [1]

  • Immunosuppressants are drugs that weaken the body’s immune system in order to prevent lupus from affecting major organs such as your brain and kidney. [1]

  • Rituximab is a type of antibody therapy often used to treat cancer, but which can also help prevent flares and reduce inflammation caused by lupus. [1]

Mind-Body Medicine

Research shows that gentle, low-intensity mind-body treatments can help lupus patients with mobility, mood, decreased pain, and more. There are a wide variety of mind-body treatments for lupus, ranging from deep breathing to aqua-therapy.

When living with chronic pain, engaging in regular movement and exercise may feel difficult and unnecessary. But doing so can actually improve your symptoms. 

Before starting a physical exercise regimen, consult with your doctor about what might be the best activities for you and your body.

Examples of mind-body medicine:

  • Tai chi, a mind-body exercise that originated from China, incorporates slow, gentle movements with breathing exercises. Research conducted by the Hartford Hospital found that tai chi brings emotional wellbeing, improved strength, and improved balance to individuals with chronic pain.

  • Yoga comes in many different styles, often engaging both the body and the mind through controlled breathing and stretching. A study conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Health has demonstrated that yoga has increased balance and body awareness among participants living with lupus.

  • Aquatic exercises such as swimming and water aerobics strengthen your core. A study found that aquatic exercises contributed significantly to increasing joint flexibility and reducing pain for individuals with rheumatic diseases.

  • Individuals with lupus are at a higher rate than the general population of cardiovascular disease, so weight management and healthy nutritional intake are key in reducing health risks. Research demonstrates that balanced nutritional intakes in patients with systemic lupus were effective in leading to better diet habits and overall health.

  • Relaxation therapies like deep breathing techniques, meditation, and biofeedback can help patients ease anxiety and better manage chronic pain. A study conducted by medical researchers in South Korea found that a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy program for patients with lupus and experiencing chronic pain greatly reduced the anxiety, depression, and stress of patients.

Manual Medicine

Manual treatments are administered by certified clinicians, using physical pressure and stimulation on the body to reduce lupus symptoms. Treatments can vary in intensity and incorporate other elements such as heat and aromatherapy to enhance relief. 

Examples of manual medicine:

  • A widely-adopted Chinese treatment administered by certified acupuncturists who insert very thin needles at strategic points on the body to support overall wellness. A randomized control study demonstrated that lupus patients who received acupuncture showed  improvements in pain.

  • Licensed massage therapists use different techniques, like shiatsu, hot stone, and Swedish massage, to provide temporary pain relief. A Mayo Clinic study concluded that massage therapy is particularly helpful for muscle pain, and that it can also help reduce anxiety.

  • Physical therapy can help with physical strengthening, mobility, and overall functionality. A study conducted by researchers in Sweden found that physical therapy techniques were suitable for addressing musculoskeletal conditions as well as with chronic back pain.

  • Osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, is a form of manual therapy used by osteopathic physicians (DOs). A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that osteopathic manual care had similar clinical results to standard medical care, but required fewer medications.

Nutritional Tools

Nutrition plays a crucial role in your overall health, and is a tool you can use to combat joint damage, reduce inflammation, and manage other lupus symptoms. Studies support the effects of diets enriched with polyunsaturated fats for patients with lupus.

Just like with conventional, mind-body, and manual medicines, there is not one ideal treatment for every lupus patient. When selecting nutritional tools to treat your condition, it is best to consult with your doctor or work with a dietitian, naturopath, or nutritionist to find out the best diet for you.

Examples of nutritional tools:

  • Anti-inflammatory diets

    • Anti-inflammatory diets include nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants and intend to reduce inflammation in the body. A popular anti-inflammatory diet is the Mediterranean diet which has been shown to reduce signs of inflammation.

  • Plant-based diets

    • Vegetarian and vegan diets have shown to promote gut health, which may have an anti-inflammatory impact. A study conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine demonstrated that plant based diets improve joint pain, tenderness, and swelling.

  • Elimination diet

    • While some foods can help reduce symptoms, other foods may trigger them. An elimination diet, which is an eating plan that eliminates certain foods or food groups believed to be causing negative bodily reactions, can help you figure out which foods are triggering those symptoms and bring you closer to your ideal diet. A study highlighted the health benefits of eliminating certain food allergens from the diet for patients with lupus.

  • Fish

    • Research suggests that eating fish may reduce joint inflammation for those with rheumatoid arthritis. This may help with symptoms of lupus.

    • Go to Mayo Clinic for recommendations on consuming healthy amounts of fish.

  • Fruits and vegetables

    • Fruits and vegetables have antioxidants, which support your immune system and may fight inflammation.

  • Nuts

    • Nuts are rich in healthy fat, protein, and fiber, and help fight inflammation.

  • Beans

    • Beans (like red, pinto, navy, and black beans) are rich in fiber and protein, and are full of both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Olive oil

    • This heart-healthy ingredient contains healthy fat, antioxidants, and oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory compound.  

  • Onions

    • These simple, flavor-rich vegetables are packed with antioxidants and may help reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and help control cholesterol levels.

  • Fiber

    • Fiber is found in foods like beans, whole grain breads, and fresh vegetables. It makes you feel fuller for longer and boosts digestive health. It also may help reduce inflammation.

  • Fish oils

    • Fish oils may reduce inflammation. A study found that there patients with lupus who consumed dietary fish oil as part of their diet reported ideal and improved health status.

  • Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)

    • Gamma linolenic acid is mostly found in plant seed oils like borage seed, evening primrose, and blackcurrant seed oil.   

  • Turmeric

    • Turmeric is a spice from the turmeric plant that has anti-inflammatory properties. A study indicated that turmeric can be used as a source for alleviating chronic pain.

  • Folic acid

    • Folic and folinic acid supplements have been shown to improve liver function and ease gastrointestinal intolerance (the digestive system’s difficulty processing certain foods, which can lead stomach pain and bloating).

  • Vitamin D

    • Vitamin D supplements are good for bone health, and they can also help keep the immune system functioning properly. A systematic review on research exploring the benefit of vitamin D on chronic pain found that vitamin D supplementation was able to improve pain levels.

  • Antioxidants

    • Antioxidants can help prevent cell damage. A study conducted in Korea found that antioxidant intake levels in patients with lupus were lower than patients living without lupus.

  • Probiotics

    • Studies show that probiotic supplements may help improve gut health and even lead to lower levels of inflammation.

  • Pomegranate

    •  A study demonstrated that the antioxidant quality of pomegranates may ease symptoms such as tender joints.

  • Green tea extract

    • A University of Michigan study showed that green tea extract may help reduce overall joint inflammation and damage.

  • [1] Lupus. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lupus/symptoms-causes/syc-20365789. Published October 25, 2017. Accessed July 24, 2020. 
  • [2] Feldman CH, Hiraki LT, Liu J, et al. Epidemiology and sociodemographics of systemic lupus erythematosus and lupus nephritis among US adults with Medicaid coverage, 2000-2004. Arthritis Rheum. 2013;65(3):753-763. doi:10.1002/art.37795 
  • [3] Greco CM, Nakajima C, Manzi S. Updated review of complementary and alternative medicine treatments for systemic lupus erythematosus. Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2013;15(11):378. doi:10.1007/s11926-013-0378-3 
  • [4] Lupus facts and statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2020, from https://www.lupus.org/resources/lupus-facts-and-statistics 
The information on this page is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your physician or health provider for your specific needs.