While efforts to close racial and ethnic health gaps in such areas as cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and cardiovascular disease are frequently in the national spotlight, lupus is one minority health disparity that has received relatively little attention. Yet this serious arthritis-related disease, which primarily affects women ages 15 to 45, is three times more likely to occur in African-American women than in their Caucasian counterparts.
The Arthritis Foundation estimates that as many as one in every 250 black women has lupus--and many of them are not even aware that they are living with the disease. In addition, some data suggest that the illness may also occur more frequently in Asian and Latino populations than in whites. While the cause of lupus is unknown, recent research suggests that it may be an inherited condition.
Lupus, which affects nearly 250,000 Americans, is a chronic, sometimes life-threatening autoimmune disease in which antibodies attack the body’s own tissue. It can involve the skin, kidneys, blood vessels, joints, nervous system, heart and other internal organs. Symptoms vary, but may include a skin rash, arthritis, fever, fatigue, anemia, hair loss, ulcers in the mouth, and kidney sediment. The good news is that lupus, once it is diagnosed, can be controlled with medication and exercise.
Because early detection is key to successful treatment of lupus, the Arthritis Foundation offers a number of resources for increasing minority women’s awareness of the disease, its symptoms and the importance of seeing a doctor if they are experiencing signs of the condition. These educational materials include a free booklet, a fact sheet, lists of lupus support groups in various parts of the country, and an online discussion forum for lupus patients. To find out more, contact the Foundation at (800) 283-7800 or visit www.arthritis.org (search for “lupus”).