Historically, lupus caused people to die young. But today, most people with lupus have a typical life expectancy with treatment. Frequency of flares and complications may influence your outlook with lupus.

The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that nearly 1.5 million people in the United States are living with lupus. Over 90% of these people are females.

The effects of lupus on your lifespan depend on the severity, frequency, and location of your symptoms, as well as any complications that may develop.

Historically, people with lupus most often died young due to kidney disease as a complication. As kidney disease treatments have improved, so too has the outlook for people with lupus and this complication.

But there’s still no cure for lupus. Complications like cardiovascular disease and increased risk of infections are now some of the major contributors to reduced life expectancy in people with lupus.

Early diagnosis, careful treatment, and constant monitoring may help 85–90% of people with lupus live a typical lifespan.

According to a 2021 review, almost all global studies that included participants who started after 1990 report a 90% 10-year survival rate.

Certain factors may influence your life expectancy with lupus, such as:

  • frequency and severity of flares
  • complications, like cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, or infections
  • quality of care

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. This means that your immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells in your body and causes inflammation in your organs, joints, and muscles.

Lupus symptoms typically come and go. Flares are when your symptoms worsen and you feel sick. Remission is when they’re better.

Although many flares are mild, some could be severe, damage your tissues and organs, or be life threatening.

Research suggests that more frequent flares could affect your outlook with lupus, including:

  • more frequent hospitalizations
  • more damage to tissues and organs
  • lower quality of life
  • lower survival rate

Lupus is a systemic disease, meaning it has effects throughout your body. This can cause various complications. Experts estimate 10–15% of people with lupus may die prematurely due to complications.

The following are some common complications that may affect your outlook with lupus.

Kidneys

Your kidneys remove waste and fluids from your body. They’re also the organs most commonly affected by lupus.

Long-term kidney inflammation may cause damage or kidney failure. This is when you lose 85–90% of your kidney function, and it could be life threatening.

Heart

Lupus may cause inflammation of the heart and increase your risk of:

  • coronary artery disease
  • cardiovascular disease, such as pericarditis and myocarditis
  • heart attack
  • heart failure

Blood

Anemia occurs in 50% of people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common type of lupus.

Anemia is a blood condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells. These carry oxygen to the tissues and organs in your body.

People with lupus are also at risk of blood clots, which may be life threatening. These could occur in the lungs, legs, or even the brain.

Some people with lupus also have antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS), which may increase the risk of developing blood clots and miscarriages.

Brain

Inflammation may occur in the brain and cause:

  • headaches or migraine
  • memory loss
  • poor concentration
  • seizures
  • meningitis
  • strokes
  • coma

Some people with lupus may also experience mood changes, such as irritability, depression, and anxiety.

Lungs

Inflammation or fluid in the lungs, known as pleurisy, may cause sharp chest pains with deep breaths.

Untreated lung inflammation may lead to scarring, which could decrease the amount of oxygen your bloodstream absorbs.

Other lung complications from lupus include:

  • pulmonary hypertension
  • shrinking lung syndrome
  • bleeding in the lung
  • interstitial lung disease

Joints

Experts estimate that 80–90% of people with lupus may experience arthritis in the small joints of the hands, wrists, and knees. This may affect your quality of life and increase your need for joint repair or replacement surgery.

Digestive system

Inflammation from lupus might spread to the digestive system, affecting organs like the pancreas and liver.

Lupus may also cause protein-losing enteropathy (PLE), which is when the gut leaks protein. This condition may reduce the amount of nutrients you absorb.

Infections

People with lupus are highly prone to infections and even sepsis, which is when the infection spreads throughout your entire body through the bloodstream. This increased risk may be due to:

  • the effect of lupus on the immune system
  • medications that weaken the immune system
  • previous spleen removal surgery, often used to treat low platelets due to lupus

Keeping up with your vaccinations, especially the pneumococcal vaccine, may help against illness and infections.

It’s important for people with lupus to catch infections early, as complications may be more severe than usual. A 2022 Spanish study identified infections as the leading cause of death from lupus, especially in young people. However, a 2023 study found that infections were a less common cause of death in Western countries.

Pregnancy

People with lupus tend not to have trouble getting pregnant. However, the condition may pose risks and cause flares. Some people with lupus may have an increased risk of:

  • miscarriage
  • congenital heart block
  • your child having neonatal lupus

People with lupus who also have serious complications, such as cardiovascular disease or pulmonary hypertension, may have a higher risk of dying during pregnancy.

Cancer

People with lupus may be at increased risk of several cancers, including:

  • blood cancers, like lymphoma and leukemia
  • digestive cancers, like liver and pancreatic
  • lung cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • skin cancer

Cancers may be responsible for 13–33% of deaths among people with lupus.

A lupus treatment plan may include a combination of medications and lifestyle changes to help you:

  • minimize and manage your symptoms
  • prevent or minimize the impact of flares
  • reduce damage to organs
  • increase your quality of life

The Lupus Foundation of America stresses the importance of treatment in maintaining a typical life expectancy with lupus. The Foundations recommends:

  • following your doctor’s instructions
  • taking your medications as prescribed
  • seeking help for unexpected side effects or new symptoms

Talk with your doctor about what lifestyle changes and medications may best help you manage your lupus symptoms and flares.

What are the stages of lupus?

There are no official stages of lupus. Symptoms tend to come and go in periods of flares and remission. However, frequent flares and complications may cause your symptoms to become more severe with time.

Does lupus get worse with age?

Lupus diagnoses commonly occur between ages 15–44. Early diagnosis, proper treatment, and monitoring may help you manage your symptoms over the course of a typical lifespan.

That said, when you receive a diagnosis and whether you’ve developed complications may affect your lifespan.

For example, children who receive a lupus diagnosis at a young age may be at greater risk of having severe flares or complications, such as lupus nephritis. Adults over age 50 who receive a lupus diagnosis may be at a higher risk of mortality and comorbidity, such as cardiovascular disease.

What can I expect during the dying stages of lupus?

In end stage lupus, the symptoms you experience will be specific to the complication or affected organ or system. Complications that most often lead to death include cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, and cancer.

Survival rates for lupus were much lower in the past. People with lupus can now expect to live a longer, healthier, and happier life due to advances in treatment.

Most deaths from lupus result from complications rather than from lupus itself. Cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, and infections are among the most common causes of death in people with lupus.

Talk with a doctor about treatments and preventive measures that can help you reduce your risk of complications as well as the severity and frequency of flares.