May is National Arthritis Awareness Month. There are many forms of arthritis, but one in particular disproportionately affects minority women: lupus.

More than 16,000 Americans will likely develop this autoimmune disease each year, according to the Lupus Foundation. Most of them will be women between the ages of 15 and 45. No one knows what causes lupus, but many experts believe that it involves a combination of genetics, hormones, and an environmental trigger.

Here are three actions you can take this month to help spread awareness of this often-misunderstood disease.

1. Get the facts. Learn how lupus is affecting people in your community. There are four recognized forms of the disease:

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
  • Cutaneous (skin) Lupus Erythematosus
  • Drug-induced Erythematosus
  • Neonatal Lupus

When most people talk about “lupus,” they are usually talking about the most prevalent form, systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE. It causes pain and swelling across the body.

Lupus occurs three times more often in women of color than in Caucasian women. African Americans have higher reported rates when compared to Hispanics. But of all cases, only 10% of people who have lupus have a close relative with the disease.

If there is a diagnosis for lupus, treatment consists primarily of immunosuppressive drugs such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and corticosteroids (prednisone).

Organizations such as the Lupus Foundation and the Arthritis Foundation can provide a wealth of information online. They detail symptoms, describe which population groups are most likely to be diagnosed, and the types of treatments available.

2. Take the Lupus quiz. The website is dedicated to sharing information about this hard-to-diagnose disease. Take its interactive quiz to make sure you can separate fact from fiction when it comes to understanding this disease.

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3. Support your local Arthritis Walk. The Arthritis Foundation hosts a nationwide event that raises awareness and money to fight arthritis. Find out if there is an Arthritis Walk in your neighborhood.

 Margarette Burnette is a freelance writer based in Georgia.

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