Patty Dunn is celebrating the 40th anniversary of her lupus diagnosis. "I say it's a celebration because I'm a survivor," says the 68-year-old Charlotte, NC, resident. "I've learned that the only thing consistent about lupus is that it is inconsistent. I was diagnosed when I was a young, single mother, and it still impacts my life every day."

While there is no cure for the disease, the outlook for lupus sufferers has improved dramatically since Patty was first diagnosed four decades ago. With treatment, most people with lupus can lead active and rewarding lives. Patty has plenty of insight into the type of lifestyle changes that can make living with lupus much more manageable.

Make Exercise a Priority

Despite physical limitations, lupus sufferers can and should engage in regular exercise, which helps in the following ways:

  • promotes heart health
  • reduces stress
  • combats depression
  • relieves stiffness
  • increases muscle strength
  • increases range of motion
  • strengthens bones and muscles without aggravating inflamed joints

Choose low-impact activities that won't put pressure on your joints. Low-impact exercises include:

  • walking
  • rowing
  • bicycling
  • swimming
  • Pilates
  • yoga

Combat Fatigue

Like the overwhelming majority of lupus sufferers, Patty is constantly plagued by fatigue. "If I try to do too much one day, I'll pay for it the next day," she says. "I limit the number of activities for each day. It's OK to give yourself permission to do nothing sometime."

Rest is crucial in curbing fatigue, especially during flares. Be sure to get plenty of sleep, take naps and/or rest breaks during the day, and plan your activities wisely.

Manage Pain

Pain is a chronic symptom for most people with lupus. Here are some things that will help you manage it more effectively.

Behavioral Techniques

Meditation and guided imagery have proven effective for managing pain because they allow you to take control of the pain by directing your focus elsewhere.

Acupuncture

A recent study published in the journal Lupus found that even a few sessions of acupuncture may be effective in reducing pain in lupus patients.

Medication

The most common way to manage pain related to lupus is by taking medication. Three classes of drugs—NSAIDs, corticosteroids, antimalarial drugs—are often suggested or prescribed to lupus patients. Each treats pain in different ways and comes with a range of side effects.

Learn more about drugs that treat lupus.

Protect Yourself

Two-thirds of people with lupus have increased sensitivity to ultraviolet rays, either from sunlight and/or from artificial inside light such as fluorescent light. A few ways to protect yourself from UV radiation include:                       

  • Wear protective clothing and sunscreen.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Avoid the sun entirely at its peak—10 a.m. to 4 p.m.—if possible.

Learn more about lupus and sun sensitivity and get tips on the best ways to protect yourself against UV radiation.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Although there is no specific diet for lupus, eating nutritious, well-balanced meals can help manage some of the symptoms of lupus. Consider these diet tips when planning your healthy meals:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, moderate amounts of meats, poultry, and oily fish have been found to help reduce inflammation.
  • Calcium supplements and calcium-rich foods like dark green, leafy vegetables milk, cheese, and yogurt combat osteoporosis and promote bone health.
  • Reduce fluid retention and swelling by cutting back on salt and avoiding processed foods.
  • Keep a food diary to identify foods that aggravates your symptoms, and cut back or remove them from your diet.