Flu season is officially upon us! Living with lupus during flu season brings forth a unique set of challenges, especially when it comes to navigating the delicate balance of boosting your immune system without triggering lupus flare symptoms. In this blog, we’ll explore the relationship between lupus, the immune system, and safe practices to enhance immunity.
Lupus Flares and the Immune System
The immune system is built to protect the body from disease-causing organisms, also known as pathogens. Lupus is an autoimmune disease. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks the body rather than pathogens, causing the symptoms of lupus. These symptoms most commonly include fatigue, lupus skin rashes, fever, pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints.
Some people with lupus take prescribed medications called immunosuppressants to decrease the intensity of the immune response in the body. While immunosuppressants can help to prevent lupus flare symptoms, they can also make it harder for the body to fight off illnesses, such as influenza (the flu).
Risks for Lupus Patients During Flu Season
The flu is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. Not only are lupus patients more likely to develop the flu because of their weakened immune system, but they are also at higher risk of flu complications. The flu can lead to exacerbated lupus flare symptoms as well as pneumonia or other infections that may lead to hospitalization. It is of utmost importance for people with lupus to discover safe ways to take precautions against the flu during peak flu season.
Safe Ways to Boost Immunity
While there is no specific “lupus diet,” balanced nutrition and a healthy lifestyle can make a significant difference by reducing your lupus flare symptoms and improving your overall health. Certain foods may provide added benefits to people with lupus.
Foods high in Omega-3s are known to decrease inflammation and improve cardiovascular health. Omega-3s also provide a good nutritional foundation for balancing a reactive immune system. Examples include:
- Chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flax seeds
- Nuts and legumes (walnuts, edamame, kidney beans, navy beans)
- Seaweed and algae
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout)
Foods high in antioxidants such as vitamins A and C can help fight against inflammation and support healthy immune function. Some patients find that foods high in antioxidants can help to prevent lupus flare symptoms. These include:
- Nuts and legumes
- Oats and granola
- Black and green tea
- Dark berries
Vitamin D helps to build strong bones but also plays a major role in how your immune system works. People with lupus tend to avoid sunlight to prevent lupus flares, which in turn can contribute to a vitamin D deficiency. Low vitamin D levels may weaken the immune system, exacerbating lupus symptoms and weakening defenses against illnesses like the flu. Vitamin D supplements improve lupus flare symptoms, support the immune system, and have anti-inflammatory properties that benefit the muscles, joints, and hearts in people with lupus.
Talk to your Summit Rheumatology lupus specialist before adding any vitamins or supplements to your daily routine as some might change how your medication works or trigger a lupus flare.
Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Lupus flares may make sleep more difficult. Sleep disturbance then worsens the lupus flare symptoms, which further impacts the patient’s physical and psychological well-being. Sleep deprivation can be harmful to the immune system. It is especially important for people living with lupus to develop good sleeping habits to maximize their body’s rest. Try these tips to improve your sleep:
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Create a bedtime routine and bedtime that is early enough to fit in 7-9 hours of sleep
- Create a morning routine
- Sleep with clean blankets and pillows
- Exercise daily
Get Your Annual Flu Shot
Getting the seasonal flu vaccine is an easy step that can be taken to protect your health and is especially important for people with lupus. Doctors recommend getting the flu shot annually, early in the fall before the flu starts going around. This is because viruses cause the flu to change over time, so the flu shot is updated every year.
While it is still possible to get the flu after getting the flu shot, it is less likely, and the flu vaccine will help your body fight it off- making symptoms milder. Though it is uncommon, some people may have a lupus flare after getting the flu shot. Call your doctor if you notice signs of lupus flare symptoms after getting your shot.
Some minor, practical lifestyle adjustments can be made during flu season to help protect yourself against the flu virus and germs:
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water
- Carry a bottle of hand sanitizer and use it as needed
- Try to avoid contact with anyone you know who has the flu, a cold, or other contagious illnesses
- Avoid eating or drinking after people
- Wipe down shared surfaces
Navigating the challenges of lupus while maintaining a healthy immune system involves a multifaceted approach. By adopting a nutrient-rich diet, prioritizing sleep, considering vaccinations, and making lifestyle adjustments, individuals with lupus can empower themselves to lead healthier lives even during flu season. Always consult with healthcare professionals for personalized guidance and support on your journey with lupus.
If you have questions or are seeking guidance on your lupus treatment plan, don’t hesitate to reach out to our rheumatology team at Summit Rheumatology. Our lupus specialists are here to support you in managing lupus and its symptoms with individualized treatment plans that fit your lifestyle. Ready to schedule an appointment? Give us a call at (480)780-2560 or send us a message.