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How Lupus Affects the African American Community

Jun 02, 2021 09:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Lupus Awareness

Lupus is a disease that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your tissues and organs, which classifies it as an autoimmune disease. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems, including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs. Because lupus affects many parts of the body, it can cause a lot of different symptoms. The most common lupus symptoms are:

  • Extreme fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Pain or swelling in the joints
  • Swelling in the hands, feet, or around the eyes
  • Headaches
  • Low fevers
  • Sensitivity to sunlight or fluorescent light
  • Chest pain when breathing deeply

Many people with lupus also have problems that affect their skin and hair, such as a butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and nose, hair loss, sores in the mouth or nose, and Raynaud’s Disease, which consists of the fingers and toes turning white or blue and feeling numb when a person is cold or stressed. The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million people worldwide, have a form of lupus.

Although people of all races and ethnic groups can develop lupus, lupus is three times more common in Black women than in White women. A 2014 study found that lupus affects 1 in 537 young Black women. As many as 1 in 250 African American women will develop lupus, and lupus is more common, occurs at a younger age, and is more severe in Black people. Unfortunately, the cause of lupus is unknown and the reason why lupus is more common and often more severe in Black people is also unknown.

Black people with lupus are 2 to 4 times more likely to have renal disease, 2 to 4 times more likely to have cardiovascular disease and infections, and more likely to suffer multiple organ failure, resulting in earlier mortality rates. Lupus is also often misunderstood and misdiagnosed and that further affects Black people. A 2019 study involving Black people with lupus showed themes of poor patient-provider communication, and ongoing racial and gender discrimination.


“It remains essential for us to better understand why racial/ethnic disparities continue to exist and to develop interventions to address them,” said Candace Feldman, MD, ScD, one of the doctors involved with the study and a member of the Lupus Foundation of America’s Medical-Scientific Advisory Committee. “Strategies must span beyond hospitals and doctor’s offices and include patients and their neighborhoods. They must address the structural, social, and political barriers that still prevent many individuals from achieving good health.”

According to a 2015 study, on average, lupus patients took more than two years to seek medical attention for their symptoms and only received a formal lupus diagnosis about 3.5 years later. There is still a lot of research being done to figure out the cause of lupus and why it affects Black people more than White people. The LUMINA Study was a multiethnic United States early cohort, meaning researchers studied various ethnicities—in this case, African-Americans, Caucasians, and Hispanics—from the United States who were diagnosed with lupus for 5 years or fewer. A cohort study is a form of longitudinal study used in medicine and social science.

Findings from the study show that patients who lacked health insurance experienced acute lupus onset and that certain genetics had more severe lupus. One of the key factors in determining mortality was where a person stood financially. With celebrities like Toni Braxton, Nick Cannon, and Seal having lupus, there’s more awareness for this condition within the Black community.


Very Well Health

More Than Lupus


Lupus Foundation of America

Lupus Foundation of America

 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.  

She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content. 

Read more from Boitumelo Masihleho:

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