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Lupus Survival Getting Better

Aggressive Therapy and Early Diagnosis May Be Helping
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 16, 2005 -- There's been no new lupus treatment for 30 years. But a new study shows that lupus patients live longer -- and healthier -- than ever before.

Lupus is a very serious disease in which the immune system goes out of control and attacks the body. People with lupus can suffer from damaged organs and blood vessels. They are at high risk of having musculoskeletal problems, heart and lung disease, rashes, and crippling fatigue.

Treatment requires the use of steroids and other immune-suppressing drugs. These treatments are essentially the same now as they were in the 1970s. Yet patients are doing better than ever before.

Changes in Survival Rates

What's happening? Toronto Western Hospital researcher Murray Urowitz, MD, and colleagues analyzed data on 1,184 lupus patients collected every two to six months from 1970 to 2005.

Urowitz's team looked at patients during four eight-year periods: 1970-1978, 1979-1987, 1988-1996, and 1997-2005. They reported their findings at this week's annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in San Diego.

The researchers found:

  • In 1970-1978, 14% of lupus patients died. That rate dropped to 1.8% in 1997-2005.
  • In 1970-1978, lupus patients were 14.4 times more likely to die than healthy people. In 1997-2005, they were only 3.3 times more likely to die.
  • Today's lupus patients are slightly younger at the initial appearance of the disease (average age 32.5) than in 1970-1978 (average age 35.3).
  • More nonwhite patients than ever before are being diagnosed with lupus.
  • Steroid use is about as common now as in previous decades. But patients today receive fewer steroids and more of other immune-suppressing drugs than in previous decades.

"This data indicates that more aggressive use of immunosuppressants and other therapies, even with reduced steroid use, may be having an impact," Urowitz says in a news release. "We know people are not dying of lupus as early, and signs seem to suggest that we are coming up with better [ways to use] treatment."

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