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Non-pharmacologic therapies for systemic lupus erythematosus


Fangtham M1, Kasturi S2, Bannuru RR3, Nash JL4, Wang C3. Lupus. 2019 May;28(6):703-712. doi: 10.1177/0961203319841435. Epub 2019 Apr 8.

Author Information

1 Division of Rheumatology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA.

2 Division of Rheumatology, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA.

3 Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA.

Health Sciences Library and Informatics Center, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA.



Non-pharmacologic therapies have been deemed as potentially beneficial for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. We conducted an updated review to determine the effects of these therapies to inform practice.


A literature search was performed using PubMed (MEDLINE), EMBASE, Cochrane, PsychINFO, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Web of Science, and Google Scholar from inception until August 2018. We included randomized controlled trials of non-pharmacologic therapies in systemic lupus erythematosus patients with sample size ≥10. Systemic lupus erythematosus was defined by 1982 or 1997 American College of Rheumatology criteria. Studies were synthesized separately by patient-reported outcomes and disease activity. Due to the heterogeneity of interventions and comparisons, a meta-analysis was not performed.


A total of 15 randomized controlled trials involving 846 participants met the inclusion criteria. Of the 15 trials, eight used exercise interventions, six used psychological interventions (one group psychotherapy, three cognitive behavioral therapies, one psychoeducation, one mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) and one used electro-acupuncture. Five of 15 studies utilized control groups consisting of usual medical care. Other studies included control interventions of relaxation, attention placebo, symptom monitoring support, education, minimal needling, isotonic and resistance exercise. Compared with the control conditions, non-pharmacological interventions were associated with a significant improvement in fatigue in three out of six studies. Three out of eight studies reported improved anxiety and depression, and one study reported improved pain after interventions. Seven out of 11 studies reported improvement in overall quality of life in at least one domain of the Short-Form Health Survey. Of note, no studies demonstrated an improvement in disease activity after 5-52 weeks of non-pharmacological therapies.


This review showed promising results for physical exercise and psychological interventions as adjuncts to traditional medical therapy for improvement in fatigue, depression, pain and quality of life for systemic lupus erythematosus. Further high-quality randomized controlled trials with longer follow-up periods are warranted.