Lifestyle Changes to Manage Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Lupus is an incurable, lifelong disease that flares and goes into remission. It is mild in 25% of patients and more severe in the rest. Pain and fatigue can be disabling even in mild cases.
Most of the lifestyle changes you make will be needed to manage symptoms of the disease. A few others will help to prevent flare-ups, whether you are well or sick.
General Guidelines for Managing Lupus
Avoid Sun Exposure
Lupus makes you sensitive to sunlight. Sunlight will burn you easily, worsen lupus skin rashes, and may precipitate a flare-up of other symptoms. To protect yourself:
- Avoid direct sunlight, particularly between 10am and 2pm.
- Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 whenever you go out in the sun.
- Wear a hat, long sleeves, and clothing that covers your legs all the way down to your stockings.
Treat All Cuts and Infections Quickly and Vigorously
Lupus is a disease of your immune system. Anything that stimulates the immune system can cause a flare-up of the disease. If you have a cut, clean and sterilize it with water and an antiseptic, such as povidone iodine. Contact your doctor if you get anything more serious than a cold.
Stay in Touch With Your Doctor
Make sure you have a doctor you can contact readily. Schedule regular appointments with your doctor, and contact him or her immediately if you experience any new symptoms or you think a flare-up is coming on. There is much that can be done to alleviate symptoms and prevent flare-ups. A cooperative lifelong relationship with your healthcare provider can greatly improve your quality of life.
Contact your doctor in the following cases:
- You notice the warning signs of a flare-up; be sure to discuss these signs ahead of time with your doctor so you will recognize them quickly. (Some common ones are listed below.)
- You experience side effects from a medication you are taking to treat lupus.
- For regular appointments, which may help your doctor detect disease activity even before you have symptoms
Learn the Warning Signs of a Flare-up
The earlier a flare-up can be treated, the less severe it will be. Therefore, it is essential for you to recognize the warning signs and to be in close contact with your doctor.
Common warning signs of a flare-up include:
- Increased fatigue
- Abdominal discomfort
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Eat a Healthful Diet
Eating well can help ensure that your body has the nutrients it needs to function properly and to help you manage lupus and its complications. A healthful diet is one that is low in saturated fat and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Limit Emotional Stress
Feeling stressed can put extra burden on your body, including your immune system. Stress can worsen your symptoms, so take steps to reduce stress in your life.
Get Adequate Rest
Sleep is nourishing to your body. Your overall health, including your immune function, may be compromised if you do not get enough quality sleep. Many people with lupus get tired easily. Strive for 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and take naps if you need them.
Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. McGraw-Hill; 1998.
Lupus Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.lupus.org/ .
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/ .
Last reviewed February 2009 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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