Can You Die From Lupus?

Learn About Your Prognosis If You've Been Diagnosed With Lupus

Lupus causes joint pain.
Lupus causes joint pain.. MAURO FERMARIELLO/Getty Images

For many people who have been diagnosed with lupus, 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.

Fortunately, thanks to advances over the past two decades, today more than 95 percent of people with lupus survive at least 10 years.

Even better: Most people who have lupus live a normal lifespan.

Lupus was once much more deadly. Only 50 percent 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
  • 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 Does Lupus Damage 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 Is Lupus Fatal?

Kidney failure used to be the most common cause of lupus mortality. Today, when lupus is fatal, it's usually not because of active disease. Instead, death is usually caused by complications of the disease and treatment, such as infections, heart disease and cancer.

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.

But just because a person has severe lupus doesn't mean they'll die early. For example, a study published in 2009 found that 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 life a full lifespan with a lupus diagnosis.

Sources:

Living with Lupus. Lupus Foundation of America. February 2008.

Living with Lupus. The Lupus Research Institute.

Stratta, P., Mesiano, P., Campo, A., et al. (2009.) Life expectancy of women with lupus nephritis now approaches that of the general population. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology.

Doria, A., Iaccarino, L., Ghirardello, A., et al. (2006.) Long-term prognosis and causes of death in systemic lupus erythematosus. The American Journal of Medicine.

Systemic lupus erythematosus. University of Maryland Medical Center. March 14, 2013.

What Is Lupus? National Institute of Arthritis and and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. November 2014.

What are the most common causes of death in people with lupus? Lupus Foundation of America. July 18, 2013.

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