Lifestyle changes can't cure systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), but can help manage symptoms, improve quality of life, and decrease the risk of complications. It's important to find a balance for physical and mental health.
Smoking triggers an inflammatory process that affects every cell in the body. It also causes stress on the heart, lungs, and kidneys. The added stress can exacerbate complications of SLE. Fortunately, quitting smoking will have immediate positive effects on your overall health. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit.
SLE makes many people sensitive to sunlight. Skin may be more likely to develop a sunburn. Sunlight can also worsen SLE skin rashes, and trigger a flare-up. To protect yourself:
SLE and some medications used to treat SLE, suppress the immune system. This puts you at a higher risk for getting certain infections. Infections may come more frequently, or last longer than in others. To protect yourself:
Not all infections can be prevented. Early medical care is important for any infections that do develop to decrease the risk of severe infections.
A healthy diet is important for overall well-being and maintaining a healthy weight. Be sure to get adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Dietary changes may also be needed if complications such as high blood pressure, kidney disease, or gastrointestinal problems exist.
Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce SLE activity. Omega-3 is found in fatty fish and certain plant seed oils. Although it is also available in supplement form it is often best to get it from foods. A doctor or pharmacist should be consulted before supplements are taken.
It may be helpful to avoid alfalfa, but there are no other foods that commonly trigger flare-ups. Keep a food diary and avoid foods that seem to have preceeded your symptoms on many occasions.
If alcohol is permitted, drink in moderation. Alcohol can affect how medications work or worsen existing problems. Moderation is 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
Feeling stressed can put extra burden on your body and weaken your immune system. Stress can also worsen your symptoms. Look for ways to reduce stress, such as lifestyle changes, or meditation.
It can be stressful to manage a chronic condition. Consider joining social or support groups for SLE. If you have difficulty getting out, consider staying connected through the internet with video chat, email, or social networking. Try not to isolate yourself and stay in touch with your friends.
Physical activity can help improve strength and overall well-being, which can minimize the effects of SLE. Activities may need to be adjusted during flare ups, but complete bed rest is rarely helpful.
Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Exercise programs can be tailored to avoid problem areas, such as a sore hip. To make the most of exercises, an exercise physiologist or physical therapist can help design a safe, effective program.
It is very common to experience mood changes, especially within the first few months of a new diagnosis or during SLE flares. Depression can undermine your recovery and put you at risk for more serious health complications.
Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in favorite activities that continue for at least 2 weeks should prompt a call to the doctor. There are several treatment options available, such as medications and/or counseling.
Living well with lupus. Lupus Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.lupus.org/answers/topic/living-well-with-lupus. Updated June 20, 2013. Accessed May 17, 2016.
Lupus. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Lupus/default.asp. Updated February 2015. Accessed May 17, 2016.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 29, 2016. Accessed May 17, 2016.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/musculoskeletal_and_connective_tissue_disorders/autoimmune_rheumatic_disorders/systemic_lupus_erythematosus_sle.html. Updated June 2013. Accessed May 17, 2016.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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