Women are much more likely than men to be diagnosed with systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE), but according to a new study, when the diagnosis is made, men are in worse shape.
The study was the work of researchers at the Universitario de San Vincente Fondación in Colombia. They recruited 160 people who had been diagnosed with lupus between 2001 and 2011; 40 were men and 120 were women. They measured disease activity when each person was diagnosed using a scale called the Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI) and then took follow-up laboratory assessments six months later.
In certain aspects, such as hair loss (alopecia) and kidney problems, differences between men and women were few. But men had a higher degree of disease activity. The leader of the study, Jorge Acosta-Reyes, MD, said there were several possible reasons for this.
First, because SLE is so often viewed as a women’s disease, physicians might not think of it as a first diagnosis in male patients, and therefore the disease has often progressed further when the diagnosis is finally made. Second, men might not seek medical advice until the disease reaches a more advanced stage. The third possibility, and perhaps the most important, is that SLE is more aggressive in men than in women.
This third possibility has significant implications for doctors. Acosta-Reyes advises that they should consider that their male patients might be dealing with a more aggressive form of SLE and therefore they should use “more aggressive treatment and be more consistent in the follow-up with patients.” In the meantime, he plans more extensive research to understand the gender differences in lupus.