Lupus Nephritis Medication

Updated: Mar 04, 2019
  • Author: Lawrence H Brent, MD; Chief Editor: Vecihi Batuman, MD, FASN  more...
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Medication Summary

Corticosteroids are used in all patients with clinically significant renal disease. Immunosuppressive agents, particularly cyclophosphamide, azathioprine, and mycophenolate mofetil, are used in patients with aggressive renal lesions because they improve the renal outcome. They may also be used in patients with inadequate response or excessive toxicity to corticosteroids. Cyclosporine has been used in some cases.



Class Summary

Corticosteroids are very useful in controlling acute inflammatory manifestations of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Alone, they may be adequate in treating milder forms of lupus nephritis with a lower risk of progressive renal dysfunction, such as minimal mesangial lupus nephritis, mesangial proliferative lupus nephritis, early focal lupus nephritis, or membranous lupus nephritis. Oral corticosteroids can be used in most patients. If adequate absorption is a concern (eg, bowel edema in a patient with nephrosis), intravenous (IV) methylprednisolone can be used.


Prednisone is commonly used to treat inflammatory manifestations of SLE. Treatment of clinically significant lupus nephritis should include moderate-to-high doses initially.

Methylprednisolone (Medrol, Solu-Medrol, A-Methapred)

Methylprednisolone is used in much the same manner as prednisone, but it has less mineralocorticoid effects and should be considered in patients with edema. The parenteral IV dosage form is used in the inpatient setting.



Class Summary

In particular, cyclophosphamide, mycophenolate, and azathioprine are used in patients with aggressive renal lesions (eg, focal or diffuse lupus nephritis) because they improve renal outcome. These agents can also be used in patients with inadequate response or excessive toxicity to corticosteroids. Mycophenolate mofetil has been shown to be effective for treatment of lupus nephritis. Mycophenolate mofetil was found to be superior to azathioprine in maintaining control and preventing relapses of lupus nephritis in patients who have responded to induction therapy. [56]


Cyclophosphamide is indicated for treatment of most patients with focal lupus nephritis or diffuse lupus nephritis. Although it has significant toxicity, it has been shown to prevent the progression of nephritis and improve renal outcome.

Azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan)

Azathioprine is useful in moderate-to-severe lupus nephritis. It improves renal outcome, but it does not appear to be as effective as cyclophosphamide, although it is less toxic.

Mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) or mycophenolic acid (Myfortic)

Mycophenolate mofetil is an option for induction therapy with class II/IV lupus nephritis. It has generally been well tolerated and, in several studies, has been as effective as (and possibly more effective than) more traditional therapies, including cyclophosphamide and azathioprine, with less toxicity. The American College of Rheumatology guidelines recommend mycophenolate mofetil as the preferred agent for African Americans and Hispanics.

Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil)

The exact anti-inflammatory mechanism of action of hydroxychloroquine is not well understood. It is thought to elicit anti-inflammatory effects in vivo by antagonizing histamine and serotonin and inhibits prostaglandin synthesis. In vitro studies suggest hydroxychloroquine may inhibit chemotaxis of PMN leukocytes, macrophages, and eosinophils. The American College of Rheumatology guidelines recommend that all patients with SLE and nephritis be treated with a background of hydroxychloroquine, unless contraindicated.