A drug that has already been approved and used to treat the type of lupus that causes impaired kidney function may help more patients than previously believed.

Mayo Clinic researchers found that mycophenolate mofetil is effective in managing the symptoms of non-renal lupus, a form of the disease that hasn't yet affected the kidneys.

This means the drug could help more patients who have systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common form of this autoimmune disease.

Those people who have SLE may experience symptoms ranging from fevers and joint pain to excessive fatigue and hair loss. The kidneys are especially vulnerable, but the disease can impair other organs as well.

There is no cure for SLE, and many medications used to treat the disease have major side effects. One drug, cyclophosphamide, puts patients at risk for infertility and cancer, the researchers say.

"It's a significant step if the medication is effective but has fewer side effects," says lead researcher Dr. Kevin Moder, a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic.

In the future, researchers intend to study how the drug works when it is combined with other medications.

Keep Track of Your Symptoms

If you think you might have an autoimmune disease, such as lupus or Sjögren's syndrome, start a symptoms journal. These diseases are notoriously hard to diagnose. Note when symptoms including joint pain, fatigue and unusual weight loss or gain—occur and how long they last. Document your family's medical history—some auto-immune diseases show family patterns. If your doctor doesn't take your complaints seriously, get second, third, even fourth opinions.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in