Lupus Age of Onset: Late-Onset Lupus

Learn About Diagnosing and Treating Lupus In Older Age

A patient meets with a doctor.
A patient meets with a doctor.. LWA/Dann Tardif/Getty Images

Although the age of onset for lupus is typically between 15 and 40 years old, up to 25 percent of people diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have late-onset lupus.

Lupus is usually diagnosed before age 40, and it's more common in women and in African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians. However, lupus can strike women and men of all ages and races.

Even if you're older, you can still develop lupus.

Who Gets Late-Onset Lupus?

Although the cause of late-onset lupus is unknown, it's possible that changes to the immune system that occur with aging predispose some older people to this and other autoimmune disorders.

Most studies define late-onset lupus as beginning at age 50, but there is no consensus on this. Some doctors think the term should apply only when lupus develops in people after age 65 or even older.

Research shows that anywhere between 4 percent and 25 percent of lupus patients have late-onset lupus. Lack of agreement on the age cut-off could help to explain why this range is so large. The incidence of late-onset lupus may also be underestimated by some.

Both women and men can get late-onset lupus. If you are a woman, you may have a four times greater chance of being diagnosed with lupus than a man of the same age. And, while men are less likely to get the disease, they're more likely to get it when they're older.

Caucasians may be more likely to have late-onset lupus than African Americans and Hispanics.

Diagnosing Lupus In Older Age

Many otherwise healthy adults could mistake lupus for other conditions found in aging people, such as arthritis, pleurisy, pericarditis, muscle aches, dry eyes and dry mouth.

This – along with how difficult it is to diagnose lupus – can mean that late-onset lupus is not diagnosed right away.

It is often misdiagnosed as drug-induced SLE or a different rheumatic disease.

There's an average delay of about three years between when the symptoms start and when a person is finally diagnosed with late-onset lupus. On average, lupus symptoms in older people begin at around age 59, but the diagnosis isn't usually made until age 62.

Treating Lupus When You're Older

The options for your lupus medications are the same regardless of your age of onset. However, if you have late-onset lupus, you may need different dosages than younger lupus patients. This will depend on your other medications and your health status, including other health conditions you may have.

Older adults who have lupus tend to have milder symptoms with less involvement of the major organs and less active disease. Although every individual case is different, typically older adults with the disease can enjoy simpler treatment and lower doses of medications.

However, because older adults often have other diseases and health problems, the outcomes for late-onset lupus are not generally better than those of people diagnosed with lupus at a younger age.

As more patients, doctors and researchers understand that lupus can strike at an older age, earlier diagnoses and even more effective treatments may become possible.


Late-onset Lupus: Facts and Fiction. Future Rheumatology. 2008.

Late Onset Lupus Fact Sheet. Lupus Foundation of America. January 31, 2009.

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