A Look at Common Lupus Meds and Their Side Effects

Taking Lupus Medication

Lupus MedicationDrugs for lupus SLE can both help you with your symptoms, and create a whole other host of issues for you. It is important that you are well aware of all of the potential side effects of any medication before you start a course so you know what to expect and what symptoms to look out for.

For some, the side effects of medications are too strong to live with, and they decide that they ultimately outweigh the benefits. Modern medicine can sometimes seem like a miracle, but there are times when it is a downright nightmare.

With no cure for lupus in sight, we have to rely on these medications to keep us going. But sometimes the side effects bring on a whole new set of issues or health concerns to deal with.

Here are a few facts to know:

  • Just as our symptoms can vary, certain medications work much better for some people than they do for others.
  • There are treatments and medications that prevent organ damage, reduce joint damage, calm the immune system and reduce pain and swelling.
  • There are a handful of typically prescribed drugs that are used to treat lupus, and each come with their own set of side effects.


Also known as hydroxychloroquine, it was developed to prevent or treat malaria infections caused by mosquito bites. However, it is one of several antimalarial drugs that are also used to treat lupus.

The side effects of these drugs are itching, trouble sleeping, blurred vision, dizziness, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and upset stomach.


These types of drugs have far-reaching side effects too. Those taking antimalarial drugs for lupus need to visit an eye doctor annually to monitor potential damage to the retina and lupus vision loss.

Additionally, as if the sun wasn’t enough of your foe as a lupus patient, Plaquenil can cause you to be even more hypersensitive to the sun’s rays, making a sunburn almost inevitable. For more serious possible side effects, consult your rheumatologist.


Corticosteroids, like prednisone, are commonly prescribed and they are typically manmade steroids that are used to reduce tenderness, swelling, and pain in different areas of the body.

These medications work by calming the immune system. They are not what you hear about professional sports and weightlifting athletes using. These types of corticosteroids are given to patients in the form of creams, liquids or pills.

Lupus can respond quickly to high doses of prednisone, but the side effects are unpleasant. Short-term side effects include mood swings, weight gain, increased appetite, heartburn, acne, and swelling of the face. They are temporary, meaning they go away once off the medication.

Long-term side effects include cataracts, muscle weakness, infections, artery damage, high blood pressure, damaged bones, and thinning hair or skin. Serious side effects of corticosteroids include congestive heart failure, depression, and ulcers.

Most people are not huge fans of steroid treatments, simply because the side effects are so brutal.

Steroids can help you over a hump when you’ve got a bad flare, but long-term usage is not for the faint of heart, especially if you are overly concerned with your appearance. Many women are reluctant to take this drug because of it is infamous for causing lupus weight gain.

I have heard some doctors say that prednisone doesn’t actually cause weight gain, but rather an increase in appetite that can be controlled, but I’m not sure this is the case. When I took the drug, like many, I packed on a few pounds and my face got rounder (developing a very round “moon face” when taking steroids is extremely common).

Prednisone can also cause a state of heightened alertness, depression, racing thoughts and anxiety as well as hyperactivity. Additionally, those on the drug for the long term may find themselves at an increased risk for osteoporosis.

Because the side effects are so common, most people would prefer to either take a steroid for a short amount of time, or avoid it altogether. Most doctors understand this and will work with you in order to help you find a solution that works best for you. Ultimately, though, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and take the steroids, warts and all, in order to make it through a really rough flare.

Next page: immunosuppresive agents and other lupus medication information.

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