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How Common Is Lupus?

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

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue, causing inflammation and pain. It can be mild or quite severe. The skin, joints, and internal organs are most commonly affected, but any part of the body can be damaged by lupus.

The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million people in the US, and 5 million worldwide, have a form of lupus. It most often strikes women of child-bearing age, but men, children, and seniors may also develop lupus.

Facts about lupus

  • 1 in 2,000 people are diagnosed with lupus
  • 9 out of 10 cases occur in women
  • 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported each year
  • Lupus nephritis (kidney disease caused by lupus) is the most common severe complication
  • 65 percent of people with lupus list chronic pain as their most difficult symptom
  • 1 in 3 people with lupus also have other autoimmune diseases1-3

Who gets lupus?

Lupus most often develops in women of child-bearing age, between 15-44. It is 2 to 3 times more common in women of color than in Caucasian women. This includes African Americans, Hispanics/Latinas, Asians, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders.1-3

  • 1 in 537 black women are impacted by lupus
  • 20 percent of people with lupus have a parent or sibling who also has lupus
  • People diagnosed after age 50 tend to have poorer outcomes
  • 10 percent of all lupus cases occur in children and children tend to have kidney and neurological issues

It generally takes an average of 6 years from the time that symptoms begin to receive an official diagnosis.1 More than half report that it takes seeing four or more different doctors before getting a correct diagnosis. People who get a correct diagnosis in less than 6 months seem to experience fewer flares, lower healthcare costs, and a better quality of life.3

How does lupus differ by race/ethnicity?

Lupus tends to be more severe and occur at earlier ages among black and other minority women. Minority women also tend to experience more severe kidney disease, more serious complications, and less social support compared to white women with lupus.2

Hispanics also seem to have more severe lupus, more organ damage, and more comorbidities (multiple chronic diseases) such as cardiovascular issues (heart attack and stroke). White children tend to have less severe disease than other ethnicities.

What is the economic impact of lupus?

  • Direct and indirect annual healthcare costs range from $12,000 to $50,000
  • 66 percent of people with lupus report a complete or partial loss of income because they cannot work due to complications
  • 25 percent of people with lupus receive disability payments1

Does lupus affect men and women differently?

While lupus is much less common in men, males often experience more severe disease, including kidney disease and serositis (inflammation of the tissues lining major organs). Sudden onset of symptoms is more common in males. Men are usually diagnosed later than women, often between their 50s and 70s. Men with lupus have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, strokes, and cancer. Women develop more infections and osteoporosis.3

Is lupus becoming more common?

Worldwide trends seem to point to an overall increase in lupus cases. Only some of this growth can be explained by better diagnosis during the 1950s to 1990s.3

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