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Can Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Affect Your Lifespan?

A person with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), also called lupus, is expected to have a typical life expectancy, provided they get an early diagnosis and appropriate treatment.  

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Approximately 1.5 million Americans live with systemic lupus erythematosus, and 16,000 new cases occur each year, according to the Lupus Foundation of America [1]. Though 90% of people with lupus are women of childbearing age, this disease can affect anyone. 

In this article, we discuss whether lupus can cause death, factors affecting lifespan, and tips to improve outcomes.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Life Expectancy

Until the 1960s, many young people succumbed to lupus, but things have significantly changed in recent years. Thanks to advances in medicine, the effect of lupus on lifespan seems to be waning. 

Several factors determine how long a person will live after a lupus diagnosis, including:

  • Severity of symptoms
  • Complications, such as diseases of the heart and blood vessels, kidney disease, and increased risk of infection
  • Response to treatment
  • Severity and frequency of flare-ups

Can Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Cause Death?

Lupus alone is unlikely to cause death. Most deaths occur due to complications or the effects of treatment. 

For example, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death as lupus progresses. The other causes are end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and cancer [2]. 

Side effects of medication used to treat lupus may also decrease lifespan. For example, drugs that suppress your immune system can make you more likely to get an infection or get cancer. 

In a 2024 study, researchers from Brazil evaluated the factors affecting the life expectancy of people with SLE. According to them, death rates are higher among people with lupus than the general population. The main causes associated with death in this study were kidney disease and infection [3].

Some Studies Say Otherwise, and Why You Need to Interpret the Findings With Caution

The authors of a 2024 study in the journal, “Rheumatology,” conclude that [4]:

  • People with SLE are four times more likely to die compared with the general population.
  • Among people with lupus, SLE is the leading underlying cause of death.
  • People of a specific ethnic group have worse survival rates than other ethnic groups.
  • The death rate is higher among young people with lupus than older people. 

However, the study has some limitations. For example, the authors didn’t analyze the effect of disease severity on outcomes. Moreover, 20% of patients in the study had a wrong date of diagnosis, which could have affected outcomes. Thus, we need more research to confirm the results. 

According to a 2014 study, the 5- and 10-year survival rate among participants with lupus was 95% and 90%, respectively. Also, the death rate was highest among women between 16 and 39 years old. 

Does this mean people with lupus have only 5 or 10 years to live? The answer is no. These numbers don’t show the time an affected person has to live following a lupus diagnosis. Rather, they mean that the study looked at death rates at 5 and 10 years. 

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Can a Woman With Lupus Get Pregnant?

About 9 in 10 people with lupus are women of childbearing age. Also, SLE antibodies (proteins) can make a woman more likely to have a miscarriage. Luckily, most women can get pregnant and deliver without any additional complications. 

Pregnancy outcomes are good when you receive proper care and don’t have severe heart/kidney problems. It is ideal not to have an active disease before conception. 

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: Tips To Improve Outcomes

  • To protect yourself from infections, wash your hands often and avoid exposure to people with colds. 
  • Get yourself up to date on vaccinations. 
  • Talk to your doctor immediately if you have a fever (more than 100°F). 
  • Avoid UV rays. Wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen every day. 
  • Stay active and eat a healthy diet. 

REFERENCES:

  1. Lupus facts and statistics | Lupus Foundation of America. (n.d.). Lupus Foundation of America. https://www.lupus.org/resources/lupus-facts-and-statistics
  2. Reppe Moe, Sigrid et al. “Long-Term Outcome in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Knowledge from Population-Based Cohorts.” Journal of clinical medicine vol. 10,19 4306. 22 Sep. 2021, doi:10.3390/jcm10194306
  3. Reis-Neto, Edgard Torres Dos et al. “Life expectancy and death pattern associated with systemic lupus erythematosus diagnosis in Brazil between 2000 and 2019.” Lupus vol. 33,5 (2024): 536-542. doi:10.1177/09612033241236383
  4. Chunhuan Lao, Douglas White, Kannaiyan Rabindranath, Philippa Van Dantzig, Donna Foxall, Ross Lawrenson, Mortality and causes of death in systemic lupus erythematosus in New Zealand: a population-based study, Rheumatology, Volume 63, Issue 6, June 2024, Pages 1560–1567, https://doi.org/10.1093/rheumatology/kead427
This information is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about your medical condition prior to starting any new treatment. AmeriPharma™ Specialty Care assumes no liability whatsoever for the information provided or for any diagnosis or treatment made as a result, nor is it responsible for the reliability of the content. AmeriPharma™ Specialty Care does not operate all the websites/organizations listed here, nor is it responsible for the availability or reliability of their content. These listings do not imply or constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation by AmeriPharma™ Specialty Care. This webpage may contain references to brand-name prescription drugs that are trademarks or registered trademarks of pharmaceutical manufacturers not affiliated with AmeriPharma™ Specialty Care.
MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY Dr. Mark Alfonso, PharmD, BCMTMS

Dr. Mark Alfonso, PharmD was born and raised in Pueblo, CO. He received his pharmacy degree from the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy at the Anschutz Medical Campus in 2010. He was board certified in medication therapy management in 2022. The most rewarding part of his job is helping to answer patient questions and concerns. His areas of expertise are community pharmacy and medication therapy management.  In his free time, he enjoys reading and running.

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