Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation throughout the body. It can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs. There is no cure for lupus, but with proper treatment most people with lupus can live a full life. Part of managing lupus is avoiding things that may trigger lupus flares or make symptoms worse.
Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) rays that can cause a lupus rash or flare in people who are photosensitive. The best way to prevent problems is to avoid direct sunlight, especially between 10am and 4pm when light is most intense. Wear sunscreen, protective clothing, and a wide-brimmed hat when out in the sun. UV blocking films on car windows and UV filtering sleeves to cover hands and arms can also help.
People with lupus are more prone to infections because of a weakened immune system. Try to avoid being exposed to contagious illnesses when possible. Get flu and pneumonia vaccines to help prevent these infections. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly to limit spread of germs. Let doctors know about any signs of infection right away so they can be treated promptly.
Fatigue and stress
Both fatigue and stress can bring on a lupus flare. Regular breaks for rest and relaxation help conserve energy. Avoid taking on too many responsibilities that could lead to burnout. Make time for enough sleep every night. Manage stress with exercise, meditation, therapy, support groups, or other strategies.
Female hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause can trigger lupus symptoms. Hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills also impact lupus. Work closely with doctors on options for minimizing hormone-related flares.
Medications that should be avoided
Certain medications can worsen lupus symptoms or interact with lupus drugs. Drugs to especially avoid include:
- Isoniazid (INH), used to treat tuberculosis
- Hydralazine, a blood pressure medication
- Procainamide, for irregular heart rhythms
- Dilantin, an anti-seizure drug
- Chlorpromazine, an antipsychotic medication
- Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors like etanercept and infliximab
- Estrogen replacements or oral contraceptives for some patients
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can also provoke lupus kidney disease. Check with doctors about any new medications being prescribed.
Foods and supplements to avoid
No specific diet has been shown to improve or worsen lupus, but some foods seem to provoke flares in certain people. It can help to keep a food diary to identify any problem items. Some foods people with lupus may consider avoiding include:
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Gingko biloba
- Refined sugars
- Citrus fruits
- Fried and processed foods
Always check with a doctor before eliminating any major food groups long term.
Smoking with lupus increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The chemicals in cigarette smoke also provoke inflammation and lupus symptoms. Quitting smoking can be extremely beneficial for overall health.
Some lupus medications like diuretics and corticosteroids increase urination and fluid loss. Staying hydrated helps kidneys function properly and avoid flare-provoking dehydration. Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Prolonged exposure to heat or cold can worsen joint pain, Raynaud’s phenomenon, and other lupus symptoms. Avoid spending long periods in very hot or very cold environments when possible. Dress in layers and keep the thermostat set at a comfortable temperature.
Heavy metals like mercury and lead, aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, fungicides, and certain drugs can mimic or exacerbate lupus. Whenever possible reduce exposure to industrial chemicals, herbicides, insecticides, paint fumes, heavy metals, and medications linked to drug-induced lupus.
Pacing activities helps prevent exertion-induced flares. Switch between rest and activity throughout the day. Avoid overexertion from physical, mental or emotional stressors. Get help with chores or responsibilities that are overly taxing.
NSAIDs, certain antibiotics, IV contrast dyes, and some hypertension drugs can harm kidneys. Since lupus already increases the risk of kidney problems, it is important to stay away from anything that may further damage kidney function when possible.
Foods that suppress the immune system
Raw meat, raw eggs, raw sprouts, and unpasteurized foods can harbor dangerous bacteria that overwhelm the immune system. Cook foods thoroughly and avoid unpasteurized juice and dairy products to help prevent foodborne illnesses.
Alcohol, acetaminophen, some lupus medications, and other drugs processed by the liver can cause hepatic inflammation. Avoid unnecessary drugs and large amounts of alcohol to limit liver irritation.
Some people have latex allergies that provoke lupus rashes and problems. Use latex-free gloves, condoms, catheters and other products when possible. Avoid latex exposure until any allergies are confirmed.
Chronic stress takes a toll on the immune system and emotions. Make stress reduction a priority by scheduling relaxing activities into each day. Practice mind-body techniques like meditation, yoga, or tai chi. Avoid people and situations that cause unnecessary stress.
Pushing through fatigue often makes it worse over the long run. Respect the body’s needs for extra rest and daytime naps. Maintain a regular sleep schedule and ask for help when needed to avoid exhaustion.
While flares cannot always be prevented, avoiding potential triggers can help minimize symptoms. Everyone’s lupus is different, so it is important to pay attention to the body’s unique responses. Keeping a journal to track flares and possible triggers helps determine what to avoid. Work closely with a rheumatologist to develop an optimal management plan.
With diligent self-care and proper treatment, most people living with lupus are able to effectively control their disease and feel their best. Listen to your body, get enough rest, eat a balanced diet, stay active, limit stress, and follow the rheumatologist’s advice. Although lupus requires making adjustments, you can still find joy and live life to the fullest.