Beware of Lupus, What Black Women Should Know

Lupus and black women
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For women who have lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE), the often devastating symptoms of this autoimmune disease are all too familiar. Now a new study warns that young black women should be especially aware of this condition, and here’s why.

Lupus can discriminate
A study from the University of Michigan has noted that at least in that state, the prevalence of lupus is nearly three times greater among young black women than it is among their white peers. In addition:

  • Black women develop the disease at a younger age than do whites, which means it hits them more squarely during their childbearing years
  • Black women subsequently are at greater risk of serious health complications associated with the disease, such as kidney failure

Basically, the researchers found that lupus affected one in 537 black females in Michigan compared with one in 1,153 white females. These results are similar to those uncovered in a study conducted recently at Emory University in Georgia.

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What is lupus?
Lupus is a chronic, noncontagious disease that typically appears between the ages of 15 and 44 and affects women significantly more than it does men. An estimated 1.5 million people in the United States and about 5 million around the world have lupus, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.

Symptoms of lupus typically include extreme fatigue, joint pain, headache, rash on the cheeks and nose (“butterfly rash”), hair loss, shortness of breath, chest pain, dry eyes, and memory problems. These and other symptoms can range from mild to severe and tend to flare up and then go away (remission).

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Complications may include kidney damage (e.g., lupus nephritis, kidney failure), hallucinations, stroke, seizures, anemia, inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis), inflammation of the heart membrane (pericarditis), and inflammation of the chest cavity lining (pleurisy).

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The take-home message
The earlier occurrence of lupus among black women can have a significant negative impact on pregnancy as well as expose them to a longer burden of living with the disease. Young black women who are experiencing any of these symptoms should see a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

The study’s lead author, Emily Somers, PhD, ScM, assistant professor in the departments of Internal Medicine in the division of Rheumatology, Environmental Health Sciences, and Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical and Public Health Schools, noted that their findings “compel us to develop practices to improve screening for kidney disease among high-risk populations in order to better treat the condition and improve health outcomes for people with this chronic disease.

Although there is no cure for lupus, medications (e.g., nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, immune suppressants), lifestyle changes (e.g., healthy diet, adequate sleep, no smoking, regular exercise), and alternative medicine practices (e.g., use of vitamin D or fish oil) can help relieve symptoms.

SOURCES
Lupus Foundation of America
Somers EC et al. Population-based incidence and prevalence of systemic lupus erythematosus: The Michigan Lupus Epidemiology & Surveillance (MILES) Program. Arthritis & Rheumatism 2013 Oct. DOI: 10.1002/art.38238

Image: Morguefile

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