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The Connection Lupus has to African American Women

asavannah's picture


       Lupus is characterized as a chronic autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissues and organs.  This attack on the body causes damages to the joints, heart, lungs, brain, kidney, skin, and blood.  The direct and indirect causes of this disease have not only been a wonder to myself, but to many doctors, researchers and scientist across the world. 
       Prior research has shown that this disease is more prevalent in the African American community.  It is because of such results, I find myself questioning why this disease is more common in one race over the other, and whether there are underlying factors that may contribute to such increased numbers of those infected with the disease in a particular race. 
       Researching this disease is very important to me, since two of my family members have been diagnosed with the disease.  There are many aspects of this disease that I want to investigate, and through this research, I would like to find out who it affects, why it is so common in a particular race and community, the symptoms, and how this disease is treated once diagnosed.  
        Lupus can be found in all different races but the ethnic group that is most affected by this disease is African American women.  It is generally found in women who are in their reproductive years. The several types of the disease include; systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Discoid Lupus (DLE), Drug-induced lupus, and Neonatal lupus.
       Systematic lupus erythematosus is the most common type of the disease, the symptoms of this type are “butterfly” rash across the nose and cheeks, sores on the mouth or nose, skin rashes, fever, pain in the abdominal, chest, and joints, hair loss, fatigue, kidney inflammation, depression, trouping thinking, headaches, seizures, strokes, and blood clots.
       Discoid lupus causes a red, raised rash on the face, scalp, or other parts of the body which can last for years at a time. Drug-induced lupus is the type of lupus that comes from a reaction from some prescription medications. While on these specific types of drugs, it can take years until the symptoms become noticeable. When the patient stops the use of the drug, the symptoms no longer exists and could take as long as days, weeks, or months to go away depending on the person. While the symptoms are similar to those of SLE, it does not attack the kidneys or the central nervous system.
       Neonatal lupus is the rarest one of all and it occurs in the newborn babies of women who have SLE. This means that the disease is genetically transmitted and the babies affected by this disease suffer from serious heart defects, skin rashes or liver problems, or both heart defects and skin problems.
       The common risk factors for this disease are your sex, age, race, family history, whether you have been infected with the Epstein-Barr virus, and pregnancy. Even though men can be diagnosed with this disease, women are nine times more likely to be infected with this disease. This disease can also infect infants when it is transferred from mother to child during birth but it is found mostly in women from ages 15-45. 
       Race has also been an important factor; this disease is found in a large percentage of African American women who are also more likely to develop this disease at an early age. 
       A study done in Dorchester, Massachusetts on females diagnosed with lupus in this area found that there are a significant amount of women in this area who have this disease and researchers wanted to find out why. One part of the study showed that much of the problem is due to geographical location. Studies have shown that people who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods have more health problems than those who live in middle-class neighborhoods. From their study, I could see why more diseases such as lupus are more common in people in poor communities, especially a disease like lupus which can be brought on by stress. There are high levels of stress in most African American communities due to the lack of resources, lack of employment, small amount of income for families, and the list goes on.
       Another very important factor as to why many people in urban populations in Dorchester have several health problems is due to the fact that Dorchester is plagued by hazardous waste sites, polluted water caused by the overflowing of sewers, storm drains that are contaminated, noxious diesel buses, aged housing stock, and industrial facilities. From this information I can conclude that this causes pollutants to be omitted into the air, water, and food; which are three essential components of what keeps us alive. When these vital elements become poisonous and are then consumed by residents in the urban communities, chemicals are distributed to the blood stream, cells, and organs which then breaks down the immune systems and allow diseases to form. With this information about contaminants found in these areas, it can be said that genetics is not the main factor in the transferring of diseases. 
       Lupus cannot be cured but there are ways of treating the disease. Medicines that help to treat the symptoms are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which are used to reduce the pain in joints and muscles and also to decrease the amount of inflammation in people who have mild SLE.  Antimalarial drugs are used treat and prevent malaria and are used to help joint pain, ulcers, and skin rashes. Corticosteroid hormones are very powerful drugs that are used to decrease the amount of inflammation in the different tissues in the body. Immunosuppressive agents/chemotherapy is the last type of treatment and is used for the most serious cases of lupus when the organs are beginning to lose their ability function.
       Before researching this topic, it was my impression that the main causes for non-contagious diseases were through genetics.  However, after finding out that other factors, such as, contaminates that are distributed through the air, water, and food, also contribute to the number of people infected with certain diseases, has changed my perception.
       It is my suggestion that additional research on this disease should use Dorchester as a model for change and focus on ways to eliminate the amount of contaminants surfacing through the air. It is a horrifying realization to know that basic factors of life such as air, food, and water can become a danger to your health and have you battling a disease for the rest of your life.





Viv's picture


I have recently been diagnosed - Thank God, the medical profession were treating me like I was mad. At least now I can come to terms with it, try to help myself and get on with life.
I have come across somethings which may be of help - I hope so
'The Autoimmune connection' book by Rita Baron Faust Author of being Female and Jill P.Buyan MD professor of Medicine at NY University School of Medicine Director, Lupus clinic and Hosp. for joint Disease.
You can see some of this book on line for free and makes so much sense to me. (pub. Mc Graw-Hill professional)

Also, Google 'Lupus and Nutra-sweet' connection makes interesting reading.
Good luck everyone!

Jo's picture


Thanks for the article. Whilst it's true that certain environmental factors can trigger a lupus flare, they alone are not the cause.

Paul Grobstein's picture

genes and disease

Observations like those in Dorchester can certainly help one to appreciate the role that environmental factors can play in the prevalence of diseases like lupus. And different kinds of observations can help one to appreciate the role that genetic factors may ALSO play in the same diseases (lupus included). What kind of story would account for ALL the (existing) observations, and generate new questions/possibilities? Does it make sense to call some factors "causes" and others "triggers"? Are there other ways to tell the story?
Anonymous's picture

I am a young woman with

I am a young woman with lupus. While I do not fit into the largest ethnic group affected by the disease, (I am of European descent), I still understand what it means to have to live with the disease on a day-by-day basis.
My mother also has SLE, and has been suffering with it for the past 30 years.

I found your article very informative --I didn't know about the research done in the Dorchester area-- but I think some of your information was a little confusing.

While no one is quite sure what causes lupus, researchers are fairly certain that there is a genetic link.
That isn't to say that there aren't environmental factors, there most certainly are, but they act as triggers that exacerbate symptoms; they do not cause them.

I started to "flare" last year, a paticularly stressful time for me, and that was when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. It's not that the stress caused the disease, it simply exacerbated my symptoms and made the disease more apparent.