“African-American women are three times more likely to get lupus than white women. African-American women tend to develop lupus at a younger age and have more severe symptoms than white women.” – womenshealth.gov
Note: Let me just note at the beginning of this article that there is much to learn about Lupus and the research has not bore out all of the answers about how people develop the disease and how it affect the body. What I want to present is an overview of what is known, but I acknowledge that every person’s experience is not the same.
I believe that Lupus is something we should ALL know about in the Black Community. Lupus occurs when the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and begins to attack normal tissue as if it were an infection to be destroyed. While anyone can be diagnosed with lupus at any time, young black women are more than three times as likely as whites to develop the disease. To put that in perspective, this means that 1 in 250 black women between the ages of 15 and 44 are could develop a form of this painful disease. Fortunately, there have been great strides made in the treatment of lupus and while there is no cure, with proper medication you can live a satisfying and full life.
While the rate of diagnosis for young black women is high, the awful truth is that the path to a correct diagnosis of lupus can be a long and difficult journey. The common symptoms of lupus are easily mistaken for other diseases, like cancer or MS, especially if they are just showing up. It isn’t until there is a history of symptoms present that a doctor may even suspect lupus. This can be very troubling and causes a lot of confusion. The most common symptoms can include;
- Rash or color splotches on the nose and cheeks that are red in color
- Swollen, painful joints
- Unexplained fever
- Breathing causes unexplained, sharp chest pains
- Hair loss
- Extremities such as fingers and toes turn purple with cold
- Similar purple discoloration in extremities when under stress
- Unusual sun sensitivity
- Low blood cell count
[More info on symptoms]
While all of these symptoms taken together would seem like it would be easy to make a diagnosis, the truth is that most people with lupus appear healthy and the symptoms are intermittent at first. Lupus can often be experienced in waves, with a period of high symptoms followed by a period when there are none present. One clue that researchers are beginning to track down is that while these symptoms could be attributable to other diseases, most are unusual in young black women. There is a strong chance that lupus is inherited so doctors will ask about family history (inheriting lupus is suspected but not absolutely proven).
Three different types of lupus
Generally, there are three different types of lupus, not all of which share the same grouping of symptoms but may display all of them too. The first is the most severe; systemic lupus erythematosus is a form of lupus that affects the joints of the body and different parts of the body including the skin. The second type, discoid lupus, is limited to the skin and the last type, drug-induced lupus, is exactly what it sounds like a form of allergic reaction to a medication you are taking.
How lupus is treated
The good news is that drug-induced lupus will likely disappear once you stop taking the medicine, but some symptoms could be on going. For most people, it is a matter of simply finding a replacement medicine if you have a chronic condition that the medication that caused the induced lupus is treating. This can take some trial and error. It can also be complicated if you are on multiple medications as you will have to figure out which one is causing the lupus. Do not stop taking any medication on your own if you think it is causing your lupus, stopping medication of any type should only be done with a doctor’s approval and supervision. For lupus that affects the skin, there are many ointments and creams that are now available that can help to relieve the rashes and other symptoms associated with discoid lupus. Treating systemic lupus is more involved as you will have to work with your physician to find a pain relief medication that can also reduce any swelling without causing any disruptive side effects in your life. Treatment varies from individual to individual, so these scenarios may not be the case for all people. If you suspect that you are suffering from lupus, TALK to a DOCTOR (I’m not a medical professional. This article is based only on my personal research…not medical expertise)!
How did I get lupus?
No one knows for sure why lupus develops. It is heavily suspected that genes play a role as there is suggestion that lupus can be inherited. However, there isn’t enough evidence to prove that hypothesis so no scientist can explain why one person in a family would develop lupus and two other complete generations not have any symptomology. One benefit from all the research and attention lupus is receiving is it marks a turn in the nature of scientific investigation that is focused on and inclusive of minority health issues. Lupus may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for many who will benefit from the new approach to addressing disorders and disease within minority population that had been missing from health research for too long.