DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a mild male hormone that is effective in treating some of the symptoms of mild to moderate lupus. Unfortunately, this medication has not been approved by the FDA for the treatment of lupus, but it can be useful for people who experience hair loss (alopecia), joint pain, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction (e.g., difficulty thinking, memory loss, distractibility, difficulty in multitasking). DHEA can also be effective against osteoporosis.
DHEA does have some side effects, however, which include acne, facial hair growth, oily skin, and excessive sweating. In addition, DHEA can lower the production of HDLs (“good” cholesterol) in some women. It can also increase estrogen levels in postmenopausal women, so it is important for women in this category to obtain routine cancer surveillance (mammograms, PAP smears).
It is very important that you do not take DHEA unless you are prescribed the medication by your doctor. DHEA is often sold as a dietary supplement, but these over-the-counter tablets are not regulated and may be ineffective. You must not treat yourself with DHEA unless it is prescribed to you by your doctor. If your doctor does decide upon DHEA as part of your lupus treatment, you will need to obtain it from a compounding pharmacy. The dosage given for the treatment of certain lupus symptoms is 200 milligrams.
Who should avoid taking DHEA?
- Men with lupus should not take DHEA.
- Post-menopausal women may take this medication but should be carefully monitored.
- Women who are pregnant, may become pregnant, or are nursing should not take this medication.
- Do not take this medication if have any type of cancer that could be influenced by hormones or have a family history or other risk factors for cancer.
- Lastly, talk to your doctor if you are already taking hormone therapy.