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Study Finds High Lupus Rates Among Young Black Women

Peak risk of developing the disease occurs in young adulthood

Lupus is running rampant among young black women, says a new University of Michigan study of lupus in the southeastern part of the state.
The rate of developing lupus was three times higher than previous estimates, reaching one in 537 black female Michiganders in the region, compared to one in 1,153 white women, according to the study’s findings. And black women were more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age, during their childbearing years, and face a higher degree of serious complications, including kidney failure.
The research, part of a landmark epidemiology study, is the largest of its kind ever performed in the U.S. focusing on lupus.
“There is a very poor understanding of what causes lupus. Identifying the population and dynamics involved helps us target our resources more effectively and better recognize risk factors for the development and progression of the disease,” says lead author Emily Somers, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the departments of Internal Medicine in the division of Rheumatology, Environmental Health Sciences, and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the U-M Medical and Public Health Schools. “We found a striking health disparity between black and white women. The disproportionate burden of disease was compounded by the fact that for black females, peak risk of developing lupus occurred in young adulthood.
“Lupus onset occurring before or during reproductive years can have significant implications for childbearing and risks in pregnancy, and of course may lead to a higher burden of health issues over the lifespan.”
Symptoms of lupus, a chronic, autoimmune disease, can include extreme fatigue, fever, headaches, painful or swollen joints, unusual hair loss, anemia, rashes and abnormal blood clotting. Serious organ damage can also occur, including kidney, heart and neurologic complications. Women are more at risk than men of developing lupus.
The U-M findings correspond with a sister project from Emory University in Atlanta. The Emory study found similar results: The incidence rate for lupus was three times higher for black women than for white women in Georgia.
“Our 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,” Somers says.

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