Lupus and African Americans: What's the Connection?

Most Americans do not know much about lupus. But the Lupus Foundation of American says that almost 1.5 million Americans have it. Ninety percent are women, mostly of childbearing age. And, according to the Office of Minority Health, African-American women are three times more likely than white women to get lupus.

Lupus affects women in their childbearing years. But lupus can start earlier in African American women. It can also cause more severe organ problems. African Americans with lupus also have a higher number of problems like seizures, severe bleeding and stroke. The symptoms are worse than for other groups. .Men also can get lupus, but women get it10 to 15 times more often.

What is Lupus?

What causes lupus is not known. The immune system is supposed to protect your body against viruses, bacteria, and other harmful things. But with lupus, the immune system can lose its ability to tell the difference between your own cells and foreign ones. Lupus can attack:

  • Joints
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Brain
  • Blood
  • Skin

What We Know About Lupus

  • As many as 1 in every 250 African American women has lupus.
  • You cannot catch lupus from someone else, but it may run in your family.
  • Women's hormones may be the reason they get lupus more often than men. Other things that may trigger lupus are infections, antibiotics, ultraviolet light, stress and certain drugs.
  • Depending on which parts of the body are affected, lupus may be life threatening.
  • With today's treatments, most people who do not have the type of lupus that affects their organs can look forward to a normal lifespan.
  • There is no cure.

How to Tell if You Have Lupus

There is no one test for lupus. It can take months or years for doctors to piece together symptoms that tell them you have it. Also, lupus symptoms come and go, and may look like those of other illnesses. That makes it hard to diagnose.

The Three Types of Lupus

There are three types of lupus. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor.

  1. Systemic lupus erythematosus (S.L.E.). Symptoms include achy or swollen joints, fevers, tiredness, anemia, kidney problems, chest pain, sensitivity to sunlight, hair loss, blood clotting problems, seizures, mouth or nose ulcers, or fingers turning white and/or blue in the cold.
  2. Discoid lupus erythematosus. This type affects the skin. It can cause rashes on the face, scalp or elsewhere that can last days or years. The rash can go away and come back any time.
  3. Drug-induced lupus. Certain medications can trigger this type of lupus.  And it may go away when the medicine is stopped. This is the mildest form of the disease. 

How Lupus Is Treated

Lupus has many symptoms that can come and go. Anyone who has it should get regular medical care to relieve pain and to prevent problems. There is no one medicine to treat lupus. Instead, doctors treat each symptom. For example, over the counter or prescribed pain medications help joint pain.  Steroids may help skin problems.

Hope for the Future

Until other treatments are developed, early diagnosis and frequent visits to your doctor will help keep you free of pain and the complications of lupus.    

Click on the links below to learn more.

Sources

Office of Minority Health, Women's Health. African Americans and Lupus   http://www.womenshealth.gov/minority/africanamerican/lupus.cfm 

Fact Sheet -- http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/lupus.cfm

Lupus Research Institute   http://www.lupusresearchinstitute.org/who.php# 

Lupus Foundation of America, Inc.  http://www.lupus.org/webmodules/webarticlesnet/templates/new_newsroomreporters.aspx?articleid=247&zoneid=60

Main Site - http://www.lupus.org/newsite/home.htmll   

This information is for education only. It is not medical advice. Please ask your doctor for advice about changes that may affect your health.

Reviewed by:

Richard L. Lane MD., Managing Medical Director, KY

Lynette Cooper RN CMCN  Legal Specialist Sr