The Lupus-Heart Disease Link

By Meenakshi Jolly, MD

Lupus, an autoimmune disease, usually affects women who are in their 20s to 40s and have a high risk of early heart disease.

Usually when we think of women with heart disease or at risk of heart disease, we think of someone in an older age group, and possibly in a setting of high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, obesity, smoking or a family history of early age heart disease. These risk factors are called “traditional risk factors.”

Recently, the American Heart Association released 2011 updates on guidelines to prevent heart disease in women, and for the first time included lupus and rheumatoid arthritis as conditions that put women at an increased risk for heart disease. Is this truly a new risk factor?

Lupus is marked by inflammation in various organs, caused by the immune system’s fight against the body’s own cells. If this inflammation remains untreated or uncontrolled, it leads to damage, which becomes irreversible with time. This inflammation and damage can occur in any of the organs/systems of the body. Though some of the inflammation and damage may be visible to a patient or physician, e.g. in the skin or joints, frequently it may not be visible, perceptible or easily measurable. Continue reading