What Triggers a Lupus Flare-Up?

What Triggers a Lupus Flare-Up?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic form of the autoimmune disease called lupus that as yet has no cure. The disease affects so many bodily systems that it may have taken you a while to get a diagnosis.

Now that you know what’s behind your symptoms — such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and rashes — you wonder what to do next. You’re following your rheumatologist’s advice by taking prescribed medications, but you want to minimize your chances of having another flare of the disease.

Kimberly Bolling, MD, is an expert clinician who specializes in diagnosing and treating lupus at our offices in Bowie, Maryland. One of the first things she encourages her lupus patients to do is start paying attention to when flares occur and to record possible triggers in a lupus journal.

What are your lupus triggers? Although they may be individual, you could share some of the common triggers listed here. They’re a good place to start when planning your own anti-flare strategy.

Ultraviolet rays

You may already know that the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays damage your skin, whether you have lupus or not. Both UVA and UVB light injure the DNA in your skin cells and raise your risk for skin cancer.

Ultraviolet light is also a trigger for a lupus flare. Except, if you have lupus, you have to avoid more than the sun. Even fluorescent bulbs in office buildings and other spaces emit UV light.

When you’re outside, always wear a wide-brimmed hat, loose clothing that covers your arms and legs, and sunglasses. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 70. Avoid peak daylight between 10am and 4pm.

If you work in an office that uses fluorescent lighting, you may request that they change the bulbs in your workspace to ones that have the lowest possible irradiance. Or, you could place filters or shields with readings of 380-400 nanometers (nm)

At home, use UV-blocking shades on your windows. You may also benefit by switching to light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

Injuries and infections

Lupus is a disorder of your immune system. Anything that stresses your immune system may trigger an attack. During the pandemic, women and men who have lupus had to undertake more precautions than the average person to avoid triggering their disease.

Even a common cold can bring on a lupus attack. Be sure to get your flu shots and COVID vaccinations on time. 

Physical trauma may also bring on an attack. Whether you injure yourself in an accident or even have to undergo surgery, the trauma that your body experiences may send your immune system into attack mode and trigger a flare.

Certain drugs

Many prescription drugs have sun-sensitizing as a side effect. As you might imagine, that could be disastrous if you have lupus. Talk with Dr. Bolling if you’re taking medications such as:

Even penicillin and other antibiotics can trigger a lupus flare. During your lupus consultation, Dr. Bolling takes a complete medical history, including the medications you’ve used or are currently using, so she can devise an appropriate treatment plan.

Stress and exhaustion

If you ever needed an excuse to make life a little easier on yourself, lupus is it. The disease worsens when you’re under emotional stress or if you work yourself to the point of exhaustion.

To live successfully with lupus, you must learn to take care of yourself without guilt or shame. Eating fresh, whole foods, drinking plenty of water, and getting sufficient sleep are all integral to your overall health and your disease management.

Have you been diagnosed with lupus? Find out more about potential triggers and treatments by calling our office at 301-352-0090, or simply request an appointment online today.

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