Lupus and its Disproportionate Impact on Black Women

May is recognized as Lupus Awareness Month. Studies show that a staggering two-thirds of the public know little or nothing about lupus. Learn more about the disease and its effect on African-American women below.

Wellness comes in many forms, shapes, and sizes. A huge component of wellness is education–knowing what we are more prone to when it comes to our genetics and physiological dispositions. When a disease disproportionately affects black women–and starts at critical reproductive stages–we must open up our ears and listen carefully. We must open up our eyes and see clearly.

Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE, is a chronic autoimmune disease with symptoms such as abnormal blood clotting, hair loss, anemia, headaches, rashes, painful or swollen joints, and extreme fatigue. Other conditions associated with the disease are kidney, neurologic and cardiovascular complications. Currently, there is no known cause and no known cure.

From a national snapshot, approximately 1.5 million Americans suffer from lupus, and 5000-10,000 of this number are children. Ninety percent of sufferers are young women, with most starting to show symptoms between the ages of 15 to 44. In terms of racial differences, African American women are three times more likely to get lupus than Caucasian women, with 1 in 250 affected

According to a 2013 University of Michigan study, “We found a striking health disparity between black and white women. The disproportionate burden of disease was compounded by the fact that for black females, peak risk of developing lupus occurred in young adulthood while the risk of disease among white women was spread out more evenly through mid-adulthood and tended to be less severe,” says assistant professor Emily Somers, Ph.D., Sc.M, who works in the departments of Internal Medicine in the division of Rheumatology, Environmental Health Sciences, and Obstetrics & Gynecology at the U-M Medical and Public Health Schools.

Because black women are experiencing this disease during reproductive years, there are higher risks for complication in childbearing.

Additionally, since women are getting this disease earlier in life, there’s a greater chance of other health problems throughout the course of a lifespan.

Think about it: this means that our sisters, nieces, daughters and aunties are getting hit with this mysterious disease right at the heart of their careers. The unpredictability of the disease calls for them to be out of work for a significant amount of time. They aren’t able to muster up the strength to show up for their families, to go on vacations, to go to their children’s sports games.

Digital Business Strategist Brandy Butler, a woman who has personally coached me, was blind sighted by the disease just last year. As a full-time entrepreneur and mother of 3, this is not what she had planned for her life. Brandy wrote an article on Huffington Post detailing the life lessons that lupus has taught her: 

brandy butler- lupus“When a person has an autoimmune disease, it means that the body is essentially attacking itself.  Sometimes it attacks in subtle ways that are not easily identifiable.  Other attacks are vicious and painful.  When you have an autoimmune disease it’s important that you watch what you put into your body both from a nutrition and mental standpoint. It’s one thing to have an external enemy, it’s another to have an enemy within.  Your enemy within may not be an autoimmune disease – it may be fear, insecurity, or scarcity mindset.  Whatever your enemy is, if you can conquer that inner enemy, you’ll soon realize that you are limitless and the world outside can’t stop you. Having autoimmune disease has taught me to love, live, and fight harder than ever before.  Surviving such a traumatic experience has taught me to live more boldly and confidently than ever in my life and business.

“Here’s the good news ― you don’t have to wait for illness to strike in order to live your very best life.  You can choose to do so right now.”

Brandy’s story is one of thousands of black women who have suffered from lupus. With such huge statistics going against our favor as a collective, whether it’s with lupus or another condition, it is important for us to use our voice to affect change.

The Lupus Foundation of America is the only national organization dedicated to solving the mystery of lupus through advocacy, research, and education. The Walk to End Lupus Now is an effort to raise awareness and funds to continue to fuel research for this cruel disease. Join advocates all across the nation’s capital on Saturday, May 20th at 9 a.m. at the Lincoln Memorial to stand in solidarity with those who’ve been impacted by lupus.

Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith is passionate about connecting marginalized populations to resources that position them for success. As a business counselor at the Women’s Business Center of Northern Virginia, she equips aspiring business owners with the tools they need to become economically empowered through entrepreneurship. She teaches monthly business startup classes and conducts daily counseling sessions to meet the individual needs of her clients.

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Walker's Legacy is a growing global women in business collective founded to establish networks of empowerment and access for women of color in business.