September 17th, 2009
09:39 AM ET

Are there new treatments available for lupus?

As a regular feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors answers readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Carolyn in Goliad, Texas:

What is the latest treatment or drug that is showing success in treating lupus?


Thanks for your question Carolyn.  Lupus  is a chronic autoimmune disease which seems to affect mainly women.  Essentially your body’s immune system begins to attack not only foreign invaders, like viruses, but your own tissues and organs.  There are four types of the disease but the most common is called systemic lupus erythematosus.  Doctors don’t know the cause, but they believe it’s a combination of family history and environmental triggers.  Those triggers can be something like an infection or even sunlight.  

Lupus can cause inflammation in just about any organ or tissue in the body, from your skin and your lungs to your kidneys.  Your doctor will determine your best treatment depending on what type of lupus you have, your signs and symptoms and their severity.  This is a disease of flare-ups and periods of remissions so your medication may also change depending on what stage you’re experiencing.  Plus, it can take months to nail down the most effective combination of treatments to best control your symptoms.  The three most common medications are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids and antimalarial drugs. 

There are currently more than 200 lupus clinical trials testing hormones, immune suppressives, stem cell transplants and biologics.  But Carolyn, after getting your email we put a call into the Lupus Foundation to find out what they considered to be the most promising.  They said lupus is difficult because patients with the same symptoms on the same medication can have different outcomes, so they consider targeted therapies the best hope – specifically biologics.  Biologics are compounds that block or interfere with your body’s immune system response.  They gave us a heads up about a large clinical trial ending in November on one such drug that they hope will help patients looking for new treatments.  Granted even if this drug is shown to be beneficial it will still have to go through the FDA review process so it will be some time before it’s available in your doctor’s office.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.