Selena Gomez’s battle with lupus – a disease that disproportionately affects women and people of color

9.21.17

She’s a singer, producer, actress and the most followed person on Instagram. Selena Gomez is not afraid of the limelight. The media obsesses over her glamorous lifestyle and highlights her carefree personality – not a woman battling lupus, until recently when Gomez’s disease escalated. After battling lupus for several years, Gomez’s kidneys began to fail. Her close friend Francia Raisa selflessly donated a kidney to Gomez, prompting Gomez to share her experience on Instagram and inspiring many to donate to lupus research. Gomez’s story has also sparked discussion around an old question: Why does lupus disproportionately affect women of color?

Roughly 1.5 million Americans have lupus, a chronic autoimmune condition that can damage one’s skin, joints, or organs and primarily targets those between ages 15 and 44. While there are several different forms of lupus, systemic lupus accounts for 70 percent of all cases and often results in damage to a major organ or tissue – a kidney in Gomez’s case. Patients may experience joint pain, fatigue or develop rashes. Some even have to undergo an organ transplant if the disease has damaged a vital organ.

Although anyone can develop lupus the disease primarily affects women, with only 10 percent of lupus cases involving men. According to research from the National Resource Center on Lupus, Black and Hispanic women are two to three more times likely to develop lupus than white women.

While the cause of lupus remains largely unknown, genetic and environmental factors – viruses, pollutants, toxic chemicals – may play a role. Researchers have identified several genetic variants linked to lupus that determine the likelihood of acquiring the disease and its severity. Sadly, patients of color are more likely to suffer from a form of lupus that leads to organ deterioration. Socioeconomic status and race often play a large role in whether a patient will receive the proper health care to treat lupus.

These disturbing findings are only exacerbated by the challenges associated with diagnosing lupus, which can often take years.

“Lupus continues to be very misunderstood but progress is being made,” Gomez wrote on Instagram.

The time it takes to be properly diagnosed only allows the disease to progress. For lupus patients, this time lapse can make a world of difference. A quick and accurate diagnosis may be the difference between treating the disease and going into remission, or living with a chronic disease.

At the CDC we work to expose instances of discrimination, even those involving a disease. Join us as we work to educate others about lupus and its disproportionate impact on women  and people of color.