Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex autoimmune disease that is predominant in women. It has a chronic relapsing and remitting course, as well as variable manifestations ranging from mild to life-threatening illness. In SLE, the immune system attacks its own tissues, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected organs. The disease typically affects several different organs and patients experience a variety of symptoms that include fatigue, skin rashes that include sun sensitivity rashes such as a malar or ‘butterfly’ rash, fever, and pain or swelling in the joints. This condition affects the non-Hispanic black population up to three times more frequently than other racial groups. These SLE patients are also more likely to have organ system involvement, more active disease, and reduced levels of social support in comparison to white SLE patients.
According to a study conducted by Garg and colleagues, which was published in the Journal of Rheumatology in August 2022, racial disparities were found in cardiovascular disease risk in SLE patients. This population-based cohort study used the Georgia Lupus registry in the US and explored the medical records of 336 people over 15 years. The risk of cardiovascular disease in the black population was seven times higher than in the white population over the 15-year period. The study also reported on the social inequalities facing this group, such as poor access to health care and lower economic condition.
SLE is a significant health burden, and GlobalData epidemiologists forecast that there are more than 240,000 diagnosed prevalent cases of SLE in the US in 2023. This will increase to 260,000 diagnosed prevalent cases in 2031 at an annual growth rate of 1.00%. The increase in the number of cases can be attributed to the projected increase in the population, as the rates for SLE have remained largely unchanged over the previous decade, based on historical data analyzed by GlobalData.
GlobalData epidemiologists also forecast that almost 90% of new cases will be diagnosed in women and around 70% of cases will be moderate or severe in complication. SLE cases are still diagnosed at a later stage in minority racial groups compared to non-minority groups, which results in poor treatment and the development of complications such as cardiovascular disease. A significant implication of SLE in black women combined with late diagnosis and the fact that the signs and symptoms can mimic other diseases is an increase in the burden on healthcare systems and the economy. More public health research is needed to get a better understanding of the disease’s aetiology, with a focus on high-risk groups and robust screenings for the earlier diagnosis of SLE. The messaging about SLE should be tailored to include using lifestyle changes, changes in diet, and medicine to aid in easing symptoms and reducing inflammation in SLE patients.