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Treating Lupus with Medicine – Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs


Updated December 10, 2007

Unlike many other diseases, there is no cure for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), commonly called lupus. But doctors can offer those who suffer with lupus a number of treatment options. These options offer a measure of hope and a great deal of disease management, allowing sufferers to lead a relatively normal life.

Treating Lupus with Medication:

One option is the use of medicine. Drug treatments can range from common anti-inflammatory options to investigational medications. The right choice is dependant on the individual nature of a person's disease. A treatment approach that begins with one drug can evolve into a new treatment course that includes a different drug altogether.

Your doctor will chart a course for you, most likely based on three key factors:

  • type and severity of lupus symptoms
  • your response to treatment
  • potential side effects of taking certain drugs

Anti-Inflammatories -- The Most Common Lupus Medications:

The most common form of drugs used in treating lupus are anti-inflammatories, which relieve lupus symptoms by reducing inflammation associated with various forms of pain and discomfort. They are particularly effective against symptoms such as fever and arthritis and, in many cases, are the only drugs required to manage a patient’s symptoms.

Anti-inflammatories fall into two categories: Non-steroidal anti-imflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteriods.

Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs):

You might be surprised at the kinds of medication that fall under this category. NSAIDs include many over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), and other “pain relievers,” such as Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). In lupus patients, NSAIDs are most effective in combating joint stiffness and pain, fever, mild inflammation of the lungs’ lining (pleurisy), and inflammation of the sac around the heart (pericarditis).

Common Side Effects of NSAIDs:

  • Stomach irritation and/or abdominal pain
  • Ulcers
  • Fever
  • Skin rashes
  • Severe headache
A specific class of NSAIDs known as COX-2 inhibitors carry other potential health risks, too. These drugs include Celebrex (celecoxib), Bextra (valdexoxib), and Aleve (naproxen). One brand, Vioxx (rofecoxib), was voluntary removed from the market in 2004 because of a potential increased risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke.

Common Brand Names:

Some common brand name NSAIDs include:

  • Motrin
  • Ansaid
  • Actron
  • Mobic
  • Aleve
  • Daypro

Treating Lupus. Handout on Health: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Revised August 2003.

Medicines. Lupus Foundation of America. Collected on Dec. 4, 2007.

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