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Deaths From Lupus on the Rise


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May 2, 2002 -- More people than ever are dying from lupus, and some are at particularly high risk. CDC researchers analyzing data from 1979-1998 found a steady rise in the number of young people -- especially women and blacks -- who died from the disease.

Their findings are published in the May 3 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

During the 20-year period, the annual number of deaths increased from 879 to 1,406, and the number of lupus deaths per 10 million people rose from 39 to 52. Each year, the death rate was more than five times higher for women than men, and more than three times higher for blacks than whites.

"Among black women, death rates were highest and increased most among those aged 45-64 years, with little difference in rates among other age groups," write J.J. Sacks, MD, and colleagues.

It's unclear what causes lupus, known officially as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and the autoimmune illness can be hard to diagnose. It affects many parts of the body and is considered one of the more fatal forms of rheumatoid disease.

According to the researchers, the higher death rate among blacks may be explained, at least in part, by the fact that more blacks than whites get lupus to begin with.

Still, preventing death from lupus requires early detection and diagnosis, and appropriate medical care, so "later diagnosis, problems in access to care, less effective treatments, and poorer compliance with [medical therapy]" may be to blame for the racial disparity, they write.

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