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3 ways to help patients manage autoimmune diseases

Pharmacists can help patients with medication regimens, treating symptoms, and more

Autoimmune diseases are some of the most common conditions in the United States, with more than 20 million Americans affected. Managing autoimmune diseases can be confusing and overwhelming. As a pharmacist, you’ll inevitably encounter patients who could benefit from your support and you can do much more than dispense their medications.

For example, you can advise patients on a proper medication regimen, listen when they need to talk about their illness, or offer support for lifestyle changes. There’s no one way to assist your patients, so it’s essential to be prepared to help. Learn how you and other pharmacists can make a difference in autoimmune disease management. 

An overview of autoimmune diseases

These diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy cells, tissues, or organs instead of protecting them. There are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases, each with varying symptoms depending on the affected area in the body. Some of the most common ones include:

While each disease affects different areas of the body and presents unique symptoms, common symptoms include fatigue, fever, joint pain, or rashes. Some autoimmune diseases may also cause limb weakness and persistent inflammation in different organs, which could lead to severe complications.

These conditions are challenging to manage, but many patients lead fulfilling lives with proper treatment and therapy.

The pharmacist’s role in autoimmune disease management

There is no singular best treatment for these conditions. Depending on the autoimmune disease, treating it often involves a complex drug regimen that could carry a risk of medication errors and adverse effects on the patient. Pharmacists are there to help monitor drug therapy, identify drug-related problems, and counsel patients to reach their therapeutic goals. Here are three ways you can help support your patients with autoimmune diseases.

1. Be a vital part of the healthcare team.

Pharmacists can help ensure autoimmune disease treatment is safe and effective. For example, you might have patients who struggle to keep track of their treatments and take their medication on time. Others may experience side effects or complications that are a normal part of treatment. Pharmacists educate on the proper use of certain medications, such as immunosuppressant drugs, to avoid potentially severe problems.

You can also work with other healthcare professionals to discuss appropriate treatment dosages. By collaborating with healthcare providers, nurses, and other healthcare team members, you can help support the patient’s overall health. 

2. Manage medications for autoimmune diseases.

For many patients with autoimmune diseases, early treatment can make a difference in managing symptoms, reducing inflammation, and preventing further damage to affected organs. As a pharmacist, it’s important for you to stay up-to-date on the latest research and treatment guidelines to guide patients through any necessary adjustments to their therapy plans.

Numerous medications and therapies have become available as the treatment landscape for autoimmune diseases has evolved. Some of the latest therapies include biologic agents, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, and small molecule drugs, like Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors. Biologic medications can target specific parts of the immune system that influence the autoimmune response. At the same time, JAK inhibitors block a cellular signaling pathway that plays a role in inflammation. 

Medications like corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be recommended, depending on the specific disease and the severity of the patient’s symptoms. 

Side effects and drug interactions can be a concern when managing medications as a pharmacist. For example, a patient with rheumatoid arthritis might be prescribed methotrexate to help control inflammation. But if this patient also takes a common over-the-counter painkiller like ibuprofen, they might experience a harmful drug interaction. 

A pharmacist can advise patients on the safest way to use their medications or suggest other ways to manage their pain to their healthcare provider. 

3. Offer lifestyle changes to manage symptoms.

There are many non-pharmacological ways to address symptoms stemming from these conditions. As a pharmacist, you should guide patients through healthy lifestyle changes to ensure long-term success with the overall treatment.

A balanced, anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce inflammation, which is often a primary contributor to autoimmune issues. Helpful adjustments to a patient’s diet include:

  • Consuming whole, unprocessed foods
  • Incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins
  • Choosing healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, avocados, and olive oil
  • Avoiding processed foods, refined sugars, and excessive salt

Increasing physical activity may help reduce inflammation and improve energy levels. Patients may consider the following exercises:

  • Walking or jogging
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Yoga or tai chi
  • Stretching or low-impact exercise classes

Consistent, high-quality sleep also helps improve immune function, reduce inflammation, and promote overall health. Counseling patients on proper sleep hygiene may help manage autoimmune disease symptoms. Some recommendations include:

  • Establishing a consistent sleep schedule
  • Creating a calming bedtime routine
  • Avoiding stimulating activities and electronics before bed
  • Maintaining a comfortable and cool sleep environment

With these lifestyle changes, patients with an autoimmune disease can improve their quality of life and manage their symptoms more effectively. 


Autoimmune diseases challenge patients as they try to understand and treat their condition. Pharmacists need to stay educated about these diseases and their various treatment methods. While interacting with patients with autoimmune diseases, pharmacists should optimize medication therapy, promote healthy lifestyle changes, and offer support throughout ongoing care.

Other support may include educating patients on the benefits and risks of specific treatments, monitoring potential drug interactions, and improving medication adherence. Additionally, pharmacists can collaborate with other healthcare professionals to improve patient care and support patients with autoimmune disorders.