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Lupus Stomach Medications: Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Gastrointestinal symptoms and problems are common in lupus patients and can significantly impact their quality of life. In this article, we will explore lupus stomach medications and strategies for managing GI symptoms effectively.

Donald Thomas, MD author of The Lupus Encyclopedia for Gastrointestinal symptoms in lupus blog post

This blog on Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Lupus Stomach Medications was edited and contributed to by Donald Thomas, MD; author of “The Lupus Encyclopedia.” Parts of this blog post come from “The Lupus Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Guide for Patients and Health Care Providers, edition 2



Understanding Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Lupus

Gastrointestinal symptoms in lupus can vary widely and may include:

    Abdominal Pain

    Lupus can cause inflammation in the abdominal area, leading to persistent or intermittent abdominal pain. Of course, lupus patients can develop abdominal pain for many reasons unrelated to lupus as well. These include medication side effects, ulcers, gall bladder problems, infections, and irritable bowel syndrome, to name a few. Many of the lupus problems that can cause the GI symptoms listed below can also cause abdominal pain. 

    Nausea and Vomiting

    Some lupus patients experience nausea and vomiting, which can be caused by the disease itself, as a side effect of medications, or due to many other conditions (for example, gall bladder problems, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and even pregnancy). Nausea and vomiting (N/V) in SLE patients are most commonly due to medications. 
         N/V occurs in around 8% of SLE patients during lupus flares. It could be related to inflammation around the abdominal organs (peritonitis), inflammation of any GI tract organs, or even vasculitis (blood vessel inflammation). When due to SLE, it usually resolves after immunosuppressant (immunomodulatory) treatment, as discussed below.

    Diarrhea or Constipation

    Gastrointestinal inflammation can disrupt normal bowel function, leading to diarrhea or constipation. Diarrhea is most commonly due to medications (and addressed similarly as above) or infection. Difficulty absorbing nutrients from food (malabsorption) can also cause diarrhea (as in celiac disease). Protein-losing enteropathy is a rare lupus problem.

    Heartburn and Acid Reflux

    Lupus patients may experience symptoms like heartburn and acid reflux due to inflammation in the esophagus. It is very important to abide by the lifestyle changes listed below under “Lupus Stomach Medications.”

    Loss of Appetite and Weight Loss

    Gastrointestinal symptoms can reduce appetite and unintended weight loss. Weight loss can be due to lupus (lupus cachexia) when lupus is very active and causing a lot of systemic inflammation. However, doctors will also want to run tests to ensure other causes are not occurring, such as other GI disorders, thyroid disease, infection, depression, anxiety disorder, and cancer (just to name a few potential causes). 

         Medications can cause many GI symptoms in lupus patients (such as nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, acid reflux, and appetite loss, and weight loss). These problems typically begin soon after starting the medication, making it easy to identify. In this case, the medication should be stopped or the dosage decreased. But they can sometimes occur after someone has been on medication for a while. In that case, several medicines may need to be stopped and reintroduced one at a time to determine which one is causing the problem.

         Abdominal pain, nausea, heartburn, and N/V can also be due to other problems not related to lupus inflammation. These potential problems include as ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, gall bladder issues, pancreatic disease, urinary tract infections, and even pregnancy. Figuring out the cause of GI symptoms can be complicated, requiring many tests and the involvement of other specialists, such as gastroenterologists.


    Lupus Stomach Medications

    Managing gastrointestinal symptoms in lupus often involves a combination of medications and lifestyle modifications. Here are some medications commonly used to address lupus-related stomach issues:

    1. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine-2 receptor blockers (H2 blockers)

      • How They Work: PPIs (like omeprazole and pantoprazole) and H2 blockers (like Pepcid) reduce stomach acid production, which can help relieve symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn.

      • When They Are Used: PPIs and H2 blockers are often prescribed for lupus patients with acid-related GI symptoms.
        • H2 blockers include cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), and nizatidine. While PPIs usually work better than H2 blockers, H2 blockers tend to be less expensive, so some insurance companies require people to take an H2 blocker before taking a PPI.
        • PPIs are not all the same, though. One PPI may work better than another. Therefore, trials of different PPIs at different doses are sometimes needed. It is important to take the PPI on an empty stomach one hour before eating a meal with protein. Some people also do better if they take a PPI in the morning and an H2 blocker in the evening. They work in two different complementary ways. It is not recommended to take both at the same time.

      LIST OF PPIs

      • dexlansoprazole (Dexilant)                       
      • esiomeprazole (Nexium)
      • omeprazole (Prilosec, Zegerid, OmePPi)
      • lansoprazole (Prevacid)
      • pantoprazole (Protonix)
      • rabeprazole (Aciphex)   
      • PPIs are generally safe. However, they can decrease magnesium and vitamin B12 absorption. We check vitamin B12 and magnesium levels regularly in patients taking PPIs.
            Prolonged PPI use can potentially cause other problems. These include broken bones from osteoporosis, C. difficile infection (an intestinal bacterial infection), microscopic colitis (inflammation in the large intestine), and atrophic gastritis (an abnormality of the stomach lining). Doctors recommend limiting PPI use to avoid these. A common approach is to use a PPI daily for eight weeks and then cut it down to an as-needed basis.
             Another reason for cutting down on PPIs is that studies suggest they cause chronic kidney disease, dementia, or pneumonia. However, we do not know if these are actual side effects or not—the studies suggesting that PPIs may cause these are not well-designed and do not prove that these are problems.

        2. Immunomodulators

          • How They Work: Medications like steroids, anifrolumab (Saphnelo), belimumab (Benlysta), cyclophosphamide, azathioprine, and mycophenolate mofetil for lupus can help suppress the immune system, reducing inflammation in the GI tract.
          • When They Are Used: These medications may be considered for lupus patients with GI lupus inflammation. Conditions where these drugs may be used include peritonitis (inflammation of the lining of the abdomen), lupus pancreatitis (pancreas inflammation), vasculitis, and lupus enteritis (intestinal inflammation). Doctors do not prescribe these drugs for nonspecific symptoms, such as nausea or heartburn (unless lupus inflammation is the cause).

          3. Anti-Nausea Medications

          • How They Work: Medications like ondansetron (Zofran) can help control nausea and vomiting.
          • When They Are Used: Anti-nausea medications may be prescribed as needed for lupus patients experiencing nausea and vomiting.

              4. Diet and Lifestyle Modifications

                • Dietary Changes: Lupus patients may benefit from dietary modifications, such as avoiding trigger foods that worsen GI symptoms (e.g., spicy or fatty foods).
                • Stress Management: Stress can exacerbate GI symptoms. Stress reduction techniques, like yoga or meditation, may help.
                • Heartburn and Acid Reflux Prevention Measures:
                  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
                  • Take small bites of food and small sips of liquids at a time.
                  • Eat food slowly. Put the fork down after each bite. Pick it back up after completely swallowing.
                  • Use xylitol lozenges or gum before eating (increases saliva flow)
                  • Avoid substances that relax the LES (like caffeine, tobacco, chocolate, peppermint, high-fat food, and alcohol): they worsen GERD.
                  • Avoid highly acidic foods like soda, citrus juices, tomatoes, and wine.
                  • If possible, stop drugs that worsen GERD (table 28.1)
                  • Avoid tight clothing and belts (they increase pressure on the stomach).
                  • Maintain normal weight (abdominal fat puts pressure on the stomach).
                  • Do not lie down for at least two to three hours after eating or drinking.
                  • Avoid exercise and bending at the waist for one to two hours after eating.
                  • Maintain good posture. Sit and stand upright.
                  • Elevate the head of the bed on six- to eight-inch blocks or furniture risers.


                Anti-Reflux Drugs and Lupus Stomach Medications

                Anti-reflux drugs are often considered if changing lifestyle habits or changing offending medications do not stop the symptoms. If symptoms are mild and intermittent, then over-the-counter preparations can be tried. These include Tums, Alka-Seltzer, Pepto Bismol, Mylanta, Rolaids, Prilosec, Pepcid Complete, and Tagamet. But check with your doctor before taking these. Some interact with other drugs or should not be used with some medical problems.

                Your doctor may put you on anti-acid prescription medicine. This can help you feel better and prevent some GERD complications. For example, aluminum sucrose sulfate (Sucralfate) coats and protects the esophagus and stomach lining. It can help people with mild GERD, especially when problems occur after eating.

                Other anti-GERD drugs typically lower stomach content acidity. Prescription-strength drugs that reduce stomach acid are divided into two main groups: proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) (table 28.3) and histamine type 2 (H2) blockers.

                Consult Your Healthcare Provider

                It’s important to note that individuals should consult a healthcare provider who specializes in lupus management to make informed choices about medications for lupus-related gastrointestinal symptoms. They will consider your individual symptoms, disease activity, and overall health when determining the most appropriate treatment plan.

                Gastrointestinal symptoms can significantly impact the lives of lupus patients, but there are medications and lifestyle modifications available to help manage these symptoms effectively. If you have lupus and are experiencing stomach-related issues, consult with your healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses your unique needs and improves your overall quality of life.

                For more in-depth information on lupus gastrointestinal problems and lupus stomach medications:

                Read chapters 15 and 28 of The Lupus Encyclopedia, edition 2

                Look up your symptoms, conditions, and medications in the Index of The Lupus Encyclopedia

                If you enjoy the information from The Lupus Encyclopedia, please click the “SUPPORT” button at the top of the page to learn how you can help. 

                For more in-depth information on Lupus Stomach Medications: Gastrointestinal Symptoms:

                Read more in The Lupus Encyclopedia, edition 2

                Look up your symptoms, conditions, and medications in the Index of The Lupus Encyclopedia

                If you enjoy the information from The Lupus Encyclopedia, please click the “SUPPORT” button at the top of the page to learn how you can help. 

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                1. Thank you for making this information available.

                2. A great job done in writing this. Thank You.
                  I am actually a Scleroderma patients with some overlapping Lupus problems.
                  Thanks again

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