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NIAMS, NMA Host Plenary Session on Lupus

By Liz Freedman

Anyone can develop lupus, an autoimmune disease with symptoms that can range from a mild skin rash to major organ failure. But 9 out of 10 people who have it are women, and African American women are three times more likely to have it than Caucasian women. Lupus affects as many as one in every 250 African American women.

During a conference break, Surgeon General David Satcher shares a moment with NIAMS' Lyn Eyre (l) and Sharon Louis.

To address the disproportionate burden of lupus in African American communities, NIAMS recently teamed with the National Medical Association to host a plenary session on this topic at NMA's 2001 annual meeting in Nashville. The partnership provides an opportunity for NIH to address issues that affect the health of minority populations as well as provide a platform to address issues included in the President's initiative to reduce disparities in minority health status. The session, which featured remarks by Surgeon General David Satcher, explored all aspects of lupus in African Americans including genetics, clinical aspects, pregnancy, outcomes and possible connections with arteriosclerosis.

NIAMS scientific director Dr. Peter Lipsky, who moderated the event along with Morehouse School of Medicine's Dr. E. Nigel Harris, said, "Lupus is a significant health problem in the African American community. Because the initial symptoms may be nonspecific, the clinician must consider the diagnosis of lupus when faced with patients living with arthritis, kidney disease, rash, or thought difficulties. We hope this plenary session increased awareness of the various faces of lupus."

Questions posed by the conference included: Why is lupus more common in African Americans compared with Caucasians? Why do African American men have more severe lupus, with major organ system damage, compared with Caucasian men?

The plenary session was coordinated by the NIAMS EEO office. An article on the session will appear in the Journal of the National Medical Association.

Dr. Yvonne Maddox (r), NIH acting deputy director, and NIAMS' Janette Gabriel chat at conference.

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