Lupus management often involves a combination of avoiding triggers, keeping up with your treatment plan, and dietary and lifestyle changes.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (often simply called lupus) is a chronic, lifelong autoimmune disease. Since there isn’t currently a cure for lupus, treatment is essential to help improve your quality of life and reduce your risk of complications.

In addition to taking prescribed medications, you can take other steps to help improve your lupus symptoms and reduce the occurrence of flares.

While lupus triggers can vary between individuals, some of the most common triggers are:

  • sun exposure
  • exposure to halogen or fluorescent lighting
  • infections
  • injuries
  • overwork

Not following your treatment plan is another common trigger of lupus flares. This is why it’s important to keep taking your prescribed medications, even if you’re feeling better.

Talk with a doctor if you think your treatment plan needs adjusting or if you’re concerned about medication side effects.

Lupus medications for flare-ups

Medications that doctors may recommend or prescribe for lupus flares include:

  • corticosteroids
  • immunosuppressants
  • over-the-counter anti-inflammatories
  • antimalarial medications
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UV exposure is a common trigger of lupus flares. To reduce your UV exposure, you can avoid spending too much time outdoors, particularly during the late morning and early afternoon hours.

Wearing sunscreen, long sleeves, and long pants can also help protect your skin from UV exposure and subsequent lupus flare-ups.

You might consider certain dietary habits that can help reduce underlying inflammation and support your overall health.

A well-balanced diet consists of a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins such as poultry, fish, and eggs. Legumes, nuts, and healthy fats are also important to round out your diet.

Another perk of eating a healthy diet is that it may help reduce your risk of health complications associated with lupus, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure (hypertension).

Certain vitamin supplements may help with lupus management. The Lupus Foundation of America notes that vitamin D can be particularly beneficial if a doctor determines that you have a vitamin D deficiency. People with lupus may be more prone to vitamin D deficiency as a result of limited UV exposure and the use of immunosuppressant medications.

But the benefits of vitamin D supplements go beyond correcting a nutritional deficiency. Getting enough vitamin D may also help you have fewer lupus flares and reduce your chances of developing other health conditions, such as heart disease.

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, a doctor may also recommend that you take vitamin B12 or fish oil supplements.

Vitamins to avoid with lupus

While some vitamins, such as vitamin D, may help with lupus management, others may do more harm than good, especially if you take too much of them. For this reason, you should avoid taking vitamin A and vitamin E supplements unless you have a deficiency confirmed with a blood test.

You should also avoid echinacea supplements if you have lupus. This popular immune-boosting supplement may interfere with lupus medications, reduce white blood cell counts, and cause liver inflammation. The risk of these effects is highest with long-term use or high doses.

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Regular exercise can benefit you both physically and mentally, especially when you have a chronic condition such as lupus. Exercising helps you maintain strength, reduce inflammation, and improve your mood. It may also help reduce lupus medication side effects such as weight gain.

The key is to find an exercise program that you enjoy and that doesn’t make your lupus symptoms worse. A 2023 study suggests that many people with lupus have a hard time getting started with exercise due to discomfort. For this reason, a gradual program is important.

You might consider talking with a doctor about low to moderate intensity forms of exercise such as:

  • walking
  • biking
  • yoga
  • swimming
  • tai chi
  • stretching

Sleep is important for everyone, but getting enough sleep is especially crucial in helping you manage an autoimmune disease such as lupus.

Additionally, do your best to get plenty of rest, especially after physically or mentally demanding activities. Balancing work with rest can take practice, but it’s important to know that overworking may worsen lupus symptoms.

Smoking negatively affects your overall health, but it also affects lupus specifically. A 2019 research review suggests that smoking can increase disease activity and weaken your response to lupus medications.

People who smoke are more likely to have discoid lupus, which affects your skin. Smoking can also make you more prone to infections when you have lupus.

Stress is another trigger of lupus flares. By being proactive with stress management, you may be able to help reduce both stress and the lupus symptoms that can come along with it. You may want to try some of the following techniques:

  • practicing deep breathing exercises
  • practicing meditation
  • doing relaxing activities you enjoy, such as reading
  • adjusting your work schedule, if possible
  • taking regular breaks throughout the day
  • asking for help when you need it

With regular visits, a doctor can help track the course of your lupus symptoms and adjust your treatment plan if necessary.

You’ll also want to call your doctor if you’re experiencing a possible flare. Symptoms of a lupus flare can include:

  • rashes
  • joint pain
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • abdominal pain

If you or a loved one has received a lupus diagnosis, you’ll likely have many questions about how to reduce inflammation and manage this condition for a better quality of life. Below are a few of the most commonly asked questions to consider discussing with a doctor.

What should you not do if you have lupus?

When you have lupus, it’s important to avoid triggers as best as you can. You may need to avoid sun exposure, overworking, and activities that could increase your risk of injuries.

A doctor might also recommend that you avoid drinking alcohol, eating highly processed foods, and smoking.

Additionally, you can talk with your doctor about your vaccination plan. Some people with lupus find that their symptoms worsen after certain vaccines, such as those for shingles or chickenpox.

How do you reduce inflammation in lupus?

Corticosteroids are medications that can reduce inflammation in lupus, but they should be used only on a short-term basis because of associated side effects.

You can also reduce inflammation through certain lifestyle strategies, such as getting regular exercise, managing stress, and eating an anti-inflammatory diet.

What foods make lupus worse?

A diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats and proteins may help you manage lupus and feel better overall.

On the flip side, the Lupus Foundation of America notes that some foods could worsen lupus. For example, alfalfa sprouts and alfalfa supplements can make lupus worse because they contain an amino acid called L-canavanine. Other foods to consider avoiding if you have lupus are highly processed foods, excess sugar, and hydrogenated or saturated fats.

Lupus is a complex autoimmune disease that causes widespread symptoms that may come and go.

You can help manage your lupus symptoms and flares by following the tips listed above. If you’re concerned about your symptoms, be sure to talk with your doctor.