May 8, 2023 - Health + Traits

23andMe’s New Lupus Report

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May is Lupus Awareness Month, and this month we’ve released a new report on lupus that is powered by 23andMe research and available for 23andMe+ members.

About the Lupus Report

23andMe’s new Lupus Report is powered by data from people who have consented to participate in 23andMe research. The report uses machine learning techniques to estimate an individual’s likelihood of being diagnosed with lupus.

The estimate is made using a statistical model that includes more than 1,900 genetic markers and information on an individual’s ethnicity and sex assigned at birth. You can learn more about the science and methodology behind our new report in this white paper.

Note that 23andMe’s genetic report on lupus can provide users with helpful information on their estimated genetic likelihood of being diagnosed with the condition. Still, it is not a substitute for clinical diagnosis and treatment.

What is lupus?

Lupus is a group of autoimmune conditions that can occur in several forms, ranging from a minor rash to severe disease that can affect multiple organs in the body. While there are several types of lupus, the most common is called “systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).” 

Symptoms typically come and go throughout life in flares, but lupus can have serious health consequences if left untreated. Common symptoms include fatigue and muscle and joint pain. In addition, some of those with lupus may experience symptoms like periodic fevers, skin lesions, or a butterfly-shaped rash on the face. 

One of the many confounding aspects of the disease is that it can impact almost any part of the body — the skin, joints, or various organs like the heart or the lungs. In addition, the parts of the body affected by lupus can be different between people and have different symptoms associated with them. This wide range of symptoms, and the fact that those symptoms can change over time, make diagnosing the disease challenging. 

Like many autoimmune diseases, lupus impacts females at a higher rate than males — nine out of ten people diagnosed with lupus are female. And among women, it is women of color who are disproportionately impacted. Black, Latina, and Asian women are two to three times more likely to develop lupus than white women, according to the Lupus Foundation of America

What causes lupus?

Although the cause of lupus is not yet fully understood, researchers believe that a mix of genetics and environmental factors trigger an overactive immune (or “autoimmune”) response. It’s that autoimmune response that can result in damage to the body. 

For those with lupus, certain non-genetic factors can trigger flares of disease symptoms. These include viral infections, certain medications, sunlight, and stress. 

Scientists have identified dozens of genes associated with an increased likelihood of developing the disease. These genes are involved in various immune system functions, including the production of antibodies, the regulation of inflammation, and the clearance of immune complexes.

A four-year study by 23andMe and Pfizer of about 6,000 people with lupus found that about 28 percent of those who participated also had a parent, child, or sibling with lupus. Additionally, we learned that among participants in our study, more than three-quarters reported joint and muscle pain. 

However, we also learned that the impact of living with lupus went beyond just those symptoms; many of those participating in our study reported other health impacts. For instance, people with lupus participating in our study were four times more likely to have major depression compared to research participants without the condition. We also found that 44 percent of those in our study reported having high blood pressure.

Find Out More

23andMe+ members can click here if they wish to view their report.

Current 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service customers on the current genotyping chip can receive this report along with 35+ other reports by joining 23andMe+ from within their account. Learn more here.

Not a 23andMe+ customer yet? Learn more about what 23andMe has to offer here.

Within this blog post and the Lupus Report, we use the word “male” to refer to people whose birth sex is male and “female” to refer to people whose sex assigned at birth is female. However, we recognize that being categorized by sex assigned at birth may be an uncomfortable experience for some people, and we do not mean to delegitimize anyone’s gender identity. Learn more about why we made this decision in this help article.

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