Lupus Life Expectancy
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2020 | Last updated: April 2023
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease with symptoms that range from mild to severe or even fatal. Lupus often comes and goes unpredictably throughout the person’s life, and symptoms can vary greatly between individuals.
While there is no cure for lupus, people with the disease are living longer, healthier lives than in years past. Today, most people diagnosed with lupus in adulthood can expect to live a normal life span. Only 10 to 15 percent of people with lupus die prematurely due to complications of the disease.1
Despite this hopeful news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 35 percent of lupus-related deaths occur in people 45 years old or younger, making lupus a serious health condition that requires close management.3
The history of lupus life expectancy
The question of whether you can die from lupus is complicated. The short answer is yes, but survival rates are dramatically better than in the past. The 5- and 10-year survival rates for people with lupus improved from less than 50 percent in the 1950s to more than 90 percent in the 1980s.7 Today, the 10-year survival rate is 90 percent and the 15-year survival rate is 80 percent. These better outcomes are thought to be the result of earlier diagnosis, and improvements in lupus-specific treatments.
In the past, death tended to be the result of the disease itself. Now, death is more often due to a heart attack, stroke, or side effects of the drugs taken to control lupus, such as a fatal infection in someone taking immunosuppressants.2,3
Lupus health disparities
While the rates of death in the U.S. due to lupus have decreased since the 1960s, differences in disease severity and mortality (death) rates still exist by gender, ethnicity and regional location:1-3,5-6
- 9 out of 10 people with lupus are women.
- African American women have the highest incidence of contracting lupus, followed by Asian American, Hispanic and Native American women. One in 537 young black women are impacted by lupus.
- African Americans with lupus tend to have more active disease, more organ system involvement and lower levels of social support compared to white people with lupus.
- Minority women tend to develop lupus at younger ages, have more serious complications, and die at higher rates.
- People with lupus who live in rural areas have worse outcomes than those living in urban areas.
- Racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans, who had more active lupus and who live in poverty experience are more likely to have kidney disease and die because of lupus, compared to whites.
- People with kidney disease or nervous system problems caused by lupus tend to have lower survival rates than those with lupus who only experience skin and joint issues.
Tips to improve life expectancy
There are several steps you can take to improve your chances of avoiding major organ damage and other conditions that shorten life expectancy when you have lupus. The number one thing you can do is educate yourself about lupus and learn how it affects you personally. This allows you to communicate better with your health care team. Other steps you can take include:
- Take your medicines as prescribed
- Keep your doctor appointments
- Seek help for flares and drug side effects
- Maintain a record of your symptoms and share it with your health care team
Your doctor may also recommend certain lifestyle changes to help you better control your lupus, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking, and resting when you are tired.4