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Epidemiology and pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus

Peter H Schur, MD
Bevra H Hahn, MD
Section Editor
David S Pisetsky, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
Monica Ramirez Curtis, MD, MPH


The reported prevalence of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in the population is 20 to 150 cases per 100,000 [1-3]. In women, prevalence rates vary from 164 (white) to 406 (African American) per 100,000 [2]. Due to improved detection of mild disease, the incidence nearly tripled in the last 40 years of the 20th century [4]. Estimated incidence rates are 1 to 25 per 100,000 in North America, South America, Europe and Asia [3,5-7].

Geographic and racial distribution — Both geography and race affect the prevalence of SLE and of frequency and severity of clinical and laboratory manifestations:

The disease appears to be more common in urban than rural areas [2,8].

In the United States, the prevalence of SLE is higher among Asians, African Americans, African Caribbeans, and Hispanic Americans compared with Caucasians [3,5,6,8]. In European countries, the prevalence of SLE is also higher among people of Asian and African descent [3]. In comparison, SLE occurs infrequently in Africa [3,9].

In New Zealand, the prevalence and mortality of SLE are higher in Polynesians than in Caucasians [10].


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