The health disparity that I chose to examine was systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) among African American women. SLE is an autoimmune disorder. The body produces antibodies – molecules that assist in immune responses – in order to fight off infection. Antibodies recognize antigens (pathogens), and induce a response to remove them from the body. In the case of autoimmune diseases, the antibodies produced are auto-reactive, meaning that they mistakenly recognize “antigens” that in reality are healthy cells. This results in inflammation of the skin, joints, and the heart, along with many other organs. Inflammation of the kidney can lead to kidney failure, which can result in death.
The study that I looked at found that age, sex, and race-specific disparities exist in SLE death rates and that death rates had increased by approximately 70% during the study period among black women aged 45–64 years (1). This is shown in the table below, and demonstrates how great the disparity among African American women is.
One of the reasons that I chose to look at lupus is because it’s cause is unknown (along with other autoimmune diseases). As a result of this, it makes it that much harder to determine why such a disparity exists. Genetics are thought to play a role, and continued research investigates this topic. Lupus is also more prevalent among African American males (along with other minorities), which is another reason I was interested in choosing this disease. I personally identify with the African American race, and my father was diagnosed with lupus a few years back, so I would like to know as much as I could! Based on what I learned from class lectures this week, I feel that race is a subjective topic (in talking about Bidil and “self identification”) and therefore cannot be the only way to look at a disease. Despite this, I believe that disparities among races exist, as in the case of lupus. However, other factors must be taken into account as well.
1. CDC. “Trends in Deaths from Systemic Lupus Erythematosus — United States, 1979–1998.” Last modified May 2, 2002. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5117a3.htm#tab1.