Clinical Review

Management of lupus flare

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Tertiary care facilities are needed. Generally, if aggressive cytotoxic therapy is indicated, delivery of the fetus is indicated after 32 weeks. Such deliveries should occur at tertiary or quaternary care facilities where both adult and neonatal intensivists are available.

Cesarean section may be reserved for accepted obstetric indications.

Cytotoxic therapy

Remote from term, it may be necessary to commence cytotoxic therapy while allowing gestation to progress.


This is the preferred agent with respect to efficacy, especially for management of glomerulonephritis.9 Unlike steroid therapy, which may show effects within 24 hours, cyclophosphamide therapy may take from 2 to 3 weeks to several months to achieve a satisfactory clinical response.

Warn of potential ovarian failure. It is important that the patient be informed that prolonged therapy with cyclophosphamide might lead to premature ovarian failure and subsequent infertility.


An alternative, less toxic immunosuppressive agent that can be used is azathioprine. However, it is also less efficacious in treating severe nephritis. In pregnancy, the preferred role for azathioprine may be in the management of an initial, mild flare. Like cyclophosphamide, azathioprine may take several weeks to be effective.

The combination of glucocorticoids and azathioprine may be more effective than glucocorticoids alone in preventing recurrence of lupus flares, data indicate.


Although this agent has also been used to manage lupus flares, it is generally effective in treating symptoms of arthritis and dermatitis, with little or no efficacy for life-threatening forms of SLE flares.

Thrombosis requires swift anticoagulation

In patients with SLE and antiphospholipid antibodies, the risk of thrombosis is increased. The ideal management during pregnancy is debatable, if the patient has no history of thrombosis. But in the setting of a lupus flare with either arterial or venous thrombosis, there is no debate. These patients require swift anticoagulation with either unfractionated or low molecular weight heparin. (Long-term therapy with a combination of heparin and glucocorticoids increases the risk of maternal osteoporosis.10)

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