If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus or any of the less common subtypes of lupus, you may be wondering about available treatment options and which ones may be right for you. Because lupus is a chronic disease, doctors work with you to manage symptoms which can range from mild arthritis and rash to problems with the kidneys and other organs using a variety of medications and therapies. And the best treatment approach for you might change over time as your symptoms and the condition changes.Generally, with the help of a rheumatologist, up to 90 percent people with lupus have a normal life expectancy, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.
“My message to patients is that we can do an excellent job of managing the condition compared to 20 years ago,” says Roberto Caricchio, MD, the interim section chief of rheumatology at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia and the director of the Temple Lupus Clinic at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine. With that said, people should never underestimate the serious effects lupus can have, he adds, which is why working with your doctor to manage the condition is so important.
Really good news for Patients with lupus — the first new lupus drug treatment in 56 years has just been approved by the FDA. In case you aren’t familiar with it, systemic lupus erythematosus (its formal name) is a type of autoimmune condition. Under normal circumstances, the immune system protects the body against bacteria and viruses. But in autoimmune disorders, the immune system mistakes parts of the person’s own body for foreign invaders.
Lupus can have wide-ranging and severe effects, because the immune system can attack and damage the skin, kidneys, lungs, brain, blood, heart, and joints.Treatment may include: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat arthritis and pleurisy. Corticosteroid creams to treat skin rashes. Antimalarial drugs (hydroxychloroquine) to treat skin and arthritis symptoms.
But now along comes Benlysta (belimumab). It’s not a miracle lupus drug treatment by a long shot. For example, it doesn’t seem to help African-American patients, which is disappointing, since African-Americans are more likely to have the condition than people of other races. Additionally, research studies showed Benlysta to have only a 43 percent symptom reduction rate, compared with 34 percent for placebo. Still, it’s one more weapon in a limited arsenal against the destructiveness of lupus. Some patients have noted that they could reduce their dependence on steroids for symptom management, which would definitely be a good thing, since steroids have significant side effects in chronic users (including bone fragility and weight gain).
One of the reasons people are celebrating this new drug is the idea that, once one company gains approval for a drug targeted against a specific disease, other companies often jump on the bandwagon in an effort to produce competitors. This kind of competition can only help lupus sufferers, who are long overdue for some good news.The downside to the Benlysta story is the expense — currently about $35,000 per year. It’s given through an IV every 28 days.