Who Develops Lupus?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2020 | Last updated: February 2021

The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans are living with a form of lupus, and approximately 16,000 are newly diagnosed with the disease each year. While doctors believe lupus results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors, the exact cause is not known.1

Lupus is most often diagnosed in women between the ages of 15 and 44; and most frequently in women of color, particularly African American women. However, men, children, and seniors also develop lupus. No 2 people with lupus experience the disease the same way, but there are common trends within each of these special populations.

Figure 1. A graphic illustration of a group of people living with lupus, spanning different ethnicities, ages, and genders.

Illustration of men and women of various ages and races, to show the range of people affected by lupus.

Lupus in women

Among people with lupus, 90 percent are female, and 1 in 537 people with lupus are young African American women.1 Scientists do not yet understand why women are disproportionately affected compared to men. However, there are some facts that are known about women who have lupus:1,2

  • Lupus is more likely to affect the major organs in African American women, and black women tend to have more flares of greater severity than white women.
  • Women of color tend to develop lupus at younger ages.
  • Women of color—African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders—are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop lupus than Caucasian women.
  • A variety of pregnancy complications are common in women with lupus, including miscarriage, preeclampsia, eclampsia, pre-term birth and stillbirth.
  • Women get more infections and develop osteoporosis (weakening of the bones) at higher rates than men with lupus.

Lupus in men

Between 4 percent and 22 percent of people living with lupus are male, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. Lupus is usually diagnosed later in men than in women, often between ages 50 and 70. Men with lupus tend to have more serious kidney, serositis (inflammation of the tissues lining major organs), and skin issues than women.2,3

Lupus in children

Childhood lupus accounts for 10 percent to 20 percent of all lupus cases. It rarely occurs in children under age 14 and almost never in children younger than 5. However, when lupus starts in childhood it is often a more severe aggressive than in adults. Children experience more serious kidney and nervous system complications than adults and have lower survival rates.2,4

Lupus in the elderly

Late-onset lupus (after age 50) tends to have milder, less specific symptoms with less kidney damage and milder flares. That said, late diagnosis often means poor outcomes caused by cardiovascular problems and increased rates of death due to lupus.2,4

Multiple autoimmune diseases

The Lupus Foundation of America reports that one-third of its members have another autoimmune disease besides lupus. Some of the most common diseases to overlap with lupus are:2,5

  • Antiphospholipid syndrome
  • Autoimmune thyroid disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Dermatomyositis (rash followed by muscle weakness)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Polymyositis (muscle inflammation)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Scleroderma
  • Sjögren’s syndrome (dry eye)

Most overlapping autoimmune diseases are found soon after the first lupus diagnosis. However, it is possible for a second (or even third) autoimmune disease to develop more than 10 years after the initial lupus diagnosis.

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