FRIDAY, Nov. 18, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Delays in lupus treatment are more common among Americans who are black, Asian or are less educated, a new study finds.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which inflammation affects the skin, joints, kidneys and other organs.

The disease occurs far more often in women than men, and also may have a higher prevalence among some ethnic groups, the researchers said. It also requires treatment by a specialist such as a rheumatologist or nephrologist, the study authors added.

"Lupus is a complex disease requiring specialized treatment, and prompt referral to a specialist is integral in ensuring patients have the best possible outcomes," said lead study author Dr. Lisa Gaynon, a resident at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

Gaynon and her colleagues looked at 196 lupus patients in California and found that 32 percent waited more than one year to receive a diagnosis.

Of the 43 percent of patients initially diagnosed by a physician other than a rheumatologist or nephrologist, 24 percent had to wait more than three months for a referral to a specialist.

While 92 percent of whites and 85 percent of Hispanics saw a specialist within three months, only 64 percent of blacks and 66 percent of Asians did.

Among patients with a high school education or less, only 45 percent were referred to a specialist within three months, compared to 81 percent of patients with a higher level of education.

The study was presented recently at the American College of Rheumatology's annual meeting, in Washington, D.C.

"These results identify populations who are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to accessing specialist care for their lupus," Gaynon said in a college news release.

"The next step in our research will be to look closer at which variables may be playing a role in these delays, for example, transportation, geographic distribution of specialists and health insurance, so we can start to develop targeted solutions to this problem," she added.

Findings presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more on lupus.