Can You Die From Lupus?

Woman suffering from shoulder pain

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For many people who have been diagnosed with lupus (systemic lupus eryethmatosus), the first question that comes to mind may be: Can you die from lupus?

The short answer is, unfortunately, yes. However, most people living with lupus today can expect to live a normal lifespan.

How Long Can You Live With Lupus?

There is no cure for lupus, so this is a question many newly diagnosed patients ask—or want to ask.

Thanks to advances over the past two decades, more than 90% of people with lupus survive 10 years or more, with many achieving a normal lifespan.

Lupus was once much more deadly. Only 50% of people diagnosed with lupus in 1955 were expected to live for more than four years.

Researchers say the survival rate for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) has improved for many reasons. These include:

  • Improvements in the classification of patients
  • Earlier diagnosis
  • Inclusion of milder cases into survival statistics
  • More aggressive treatment such as the use of cytotoxic/immunosuppressive agents and pulse high-dose prednisone
  • Advances in the treatment of hypertension, infections, and renal failure, including renal dialysis and transplantation

How Lupus Damages the Body

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder. In people who have lupus, the immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues, which causes pain, swelling and organ damage, among other symptoms.

Lupus can damage many parts of the body, including the:

  • Joints
  • Skin
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Blood vessels
  • Brain

When Lupus Is Fatal

Kidney failure used to be the most common cause of lupus mortality. Today, when lupus shortens someone’s lifespan, it is most often attributed to long-term complications of the disease, especially infection, kidney failure, and cardiovascular disease (e.g., heart attack and stroke).

Evidence suggests that active disease causes about a third of lupus deaths, while complications of the disease or its treatment (especially corticosteroids and immunosuppressants) cause about two-thirds of lupus deaths.

Lupus complications are increasingly related to aggressive treatments. These treatments can extend a patient's life considerably, but their side effects may eventually take a health toll.

The severity of your lupus factors into your life expectancy. It's been shown that people with more severe lupus tend to have shorter lifespans. This is probably because patients with severe disease have more disease complications and get more aggressive treatment.

A diagnosis of severe lupus does not necessarily mean an early death. A study published in 2009 found the life expectancy of women with lupus nephritis has improved so much that it now approaches that of the general population.

The bottom line: Don't lose hope. You can live a full lifespan with a lupus diagnosis.

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  2. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. What is systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)? Updated June 2019.

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  5. Stratta P, Mesiano P, Campo A, Grill A, Ferrero S, Santi S, Besso L, Mazzucco G, Rosso S, Spitale A, Fop F, Ciccone G. Life expectancy of women with lupus nephritis now approaches that of the general population. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2009 Oct-Dec;22(4):1135-41. doi:10.1177/039463200902200432

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