When you have the autoimmune disease lupus, your immune system is on high alert. It reacts to benign substances as if your body is under attack and so launches an inflammatory response that brings on a flare of the disease.
Each of the 1.5 million Americans with lupus has different triggers. Part of your journey is to discover your own personal triggers so you can avoid them as much as possible. Lupus is, as yet, incurable, but by managing your exposure to triggers, you may reduce the number of flares.
At the Rheumatology Center of New Jersey, our board-certified rheumatologists diagnose and treat lupus at our locations in Somerville, Flemington, and Monroe, New Jersey.
Here are our tips for identifying your personal lupus triggers so you can avoid them and enjoy your life with a minimum of disease flares.
Keep a lupus journal
To help identify your personal triggers, keep a journal in which you record the timing and circumstances of each disease flare-up. Eventually, you may be able to identify patterns that connect a flare-up to a particular type of event or exposure.
You can find lupus diaries and journals both in print form and as apps. You could also set up your own spreadsheet or modify a journal you already have to help you track your disease.
Avoid common stressors
Many women and men who have lupus have noticed that certain types of exposures bring on an attack. You may wish to act preemptively and simply avoid these common triggers or take steps to minimize them in your life.
Sunlight and indoor light
Ultraviolet (UV) rays bring on an attack in many people who suffer from lupus. Although you may already know that sunshine is composed of UV rays, you might not realize that indoor light sources have some degree of UV rays, too.
To protect yourself from the sun (whether you have lupus or not), avoid its rays during peak hours, usually from 10am to 4pm. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher if you must be outdoors, driving, or near a window. Also, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and long sleeves and skirts or pants when outdoors.
If you work in an office with fluorescent lights, you’re exposed to large amounts of UV rays. Halogen lights and even incandescent bulbs also emit UV rays.
Only LED lights are low in UV rays. If you can’t change your existing lights, look into filters or screens that block both UVA and UVB rays.
Having a chronic disease is inherently stressful. But managing stress can help you manage the disease, too. If you feel chronically stressed, make time for play and restoration. Add in healthful, fun, stress-busting activities, such as:
- Nature walks
- Joining an amateur sports team
- Tai chi or martial arts
Stress busters are also health boosters. Making time to manage stress will improve your overall health and make you more resilient when faced with life’s inevitable stressors.
Not surprisingly, medications that increase your sensitivity to light may trigger a lupus flare. You should avoid sulfa drugs, tetracycline, and minocycline whenever possible. Many antibiotics may also trigger an attack.
Infections or illnesses
If you have lupus, you must protect yourself from infectious diseases, including COVID and even the common cold. Wear a mask when in public places. Treat any illnesses as soon as they appear to minimize your exposure to antibiotics and other medications that could worsen your disease.
Any type of injury could trigger your immune system to overreact and cause a lupus flare. Even surgery, pregnancy, and childbirth could trigger an attack.
Of course, many types of trauma occur accidentally, so you can’t prepare ahead of time. When you know you’re going to undergo physical stress, such as childbirth or surgery, work closely with your rheumatologist and care team to minimize the risk for flares or to reduce their severity.
Another reason to manage stress is to avoid exhaustion, which is a common flare. Get enough sleep and treat any underlying condition, such as sleep apnea, that could disrupt a deep and restful sleep.
Living a healthy lifestyle by eating whole foods, getting plenty of exercise and sleep, and avoiding smoking and other toxins, helps you stay healthy and flare-free. Work with your rheumatologist to monitor your disease so you can treat flares quickly and minimize the risk of organ damage.
If you have lupus, contact us by phone or online form to find the medications and lifestyle changes that can help you avoid lupus triggers and enjoy a full and rich life today. We have locations in Monroe, Flemington, and Somerville, New Jersey.