In studies, the autoimmune disease lupus strikes different people at different rates. It has long been known to be primarily a disease affecting women, African Americans, and teenagers and adults under 40, but a recent study at the University of Michigan found that the risk for people in all three of these groups is higher than was previously recognized. In addition, young African-American women are at higher risk than other groups for life-threatening complications from the condition, even with treatment. Scientists could not say definitively why this population was more prone to complications, though they said it might be related to being diagnosed younger.
The complications include kidney failure, anemia, blood clotting, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Lupus is characterized by non-localized inflammation, which can cause a host of health problems, for example when it affects the brain, heart, or lungs. Among the more severe complications are bone necrosis that weakens the bone, usually in the hip, and infections due to a lupus-ravaged immune system. People with lupus are prone to urinary tract infections, salmonella, shingles, and herpes. In addition, lupus increases the risk of cancer.
Lupus patients are also more vulnerable to complications during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, and are more likely to miscarry or to deliver prematurely. Their children are also more likely to have autism spectrum disorders. Prenatal exposure to certain types of the proteins called cytokines is a significant risk factor for autism, and women with lupus frequently have the cytokines involved, and children of lupus sufferers were diagnosed with spectrum disorders more than twice as often as children of healthy women.
Treatment for lupus includes immune suppression to stop the immune system from attacking healthy tissue. Antimalarial drugs can also help fight the disease, as can anti-inflammatories. These medications can be costly, and can have severe side effects—immune suppression can boost infection risk, like lupus itself does—and some patients have been found to be taking only a third of the prescribed amount of medication.. The medication not only treats the symptoms of the disease but also slows its progress.