The Link Between Lupus and Heart Disease

Lupus has been called a cruel and mysterious disease. An autoimmune disorder that occurs when the immune system that’s supposed to protect your body attacks it instead. Its causes are unknown and no two cases are alike.

Attacking different parts of the body, lupus causes joint pain, rash, fatigue, and fever. It’s estimated that 1 in 2,000 people in the U.S. have it, yet most people with lupus don’t look sick.

While lupus can strike anyone, 90 percent of the people living with lupus are female. It occurs 2 to 3 times more frequently among women of African, Hispanic or Asian descent than among Caucasian women.

World Lupus Day May 10th

Because so few people have heard of lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE), organizations around the globe joined together to create World Lupus Day. Each year since 2004, activities on May 10th focus on increasing public awareness and raising research funds to help the millions of people living with this painful illness.

Lupus and the Heart

But there’s one aspect of lupus that even most lupus patients don’t know: They’re at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, including strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure.

During flare-ups, the immune system is actively attacking arteries, blood vessels, tissues and organs causing them to become inflamed. Lupus can cause inflammation of the heart muscle, it’s inner lining and the sac around the heart. Inflammation in the inner wall that lines the arteries results in the cholesterol plaque formation and ultimately, atherosclerosis.

Some lupus patients have no symptoms of heart disease, so they may not think that they need to see a doctor to see if they are at risk. However, they may have cardiac symptoms that can go unrecognized if they are unaware of them. Since the disease limits the ability to exercise and stay fit, patients commonly overlook heart disease symptoms and attribute it to their inflammation. Cardiac symptoms such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Chest pain

In addition, lupus patients have a higher occurrence of traditional risk factors, such as:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) — due to kidney disease or from steroid use
  • Diabetes — as a result of steroid use
  • High cholesterol — due to steroids which can cause plaque that can narrow arteries
  • Physical inactivity— as a result of joint or muscle pain which can result in excess weight

There are also lupus-specific risk factors such as how long a person has had lupus, a higher dose of steroid use, being diagnosed at a later age, high levels of inflammation

New at Emory Healthcare: Collaborative Care for Lupus Patients

Complete care for Lupus patients requires a team of specialists, all working together to create treatment plans designed to meet their unique needs. Dr. Ijeoma Isiadinso, preventive cardiologist and member of Emory Women’s Heart Center, has a special passion for preserving heart health in lupus patients. She and her colleagues frequently speak at community events to educate and increase awareness about the risk of heart disease among patients with lupus. They also highlight steps to reduce this risk and prevent the development of heart disease.

She is also a leading member of Emory’s collaborative clinic, working along with the rheumatologists to provide rheumatologic and cardiac care for lupus patients. The team is looking forward to developing research projects together to improve today’s treatments for this patient group.

Don’t Wait for a Heart Problem

If you or a loved one live with lupus, let World Lupus Day serve as a reminder to make prevention important:

  • Be aware of heart disease risk and talk with your doctor about how to reduce the risk
  • Work with doctors to keep blood pressure and cholesterol at safe levels
  • Maintain a healthy weight and follow a heart-healthy diet
  • Avoid tobacco use
  • Once pain and other symptoms are under control, exercise as much and as often as possible

World Lupus Day is also the perfect time to ask your doctor about a heart disease risk assessment. Schedule an appointment today by calling 404-778-7777.

About Ijeoma Isiadinso, MD

Ijeoma Isiadinso, MD MPH FACC FASNC is a Board Certified Cardiologist at the Emory Heart and Vascular Center and Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Isiadinso earned a dual degree in Medicine and Public Health during medical school. She joined the faculty at Emory University School of Medicine in 2010 after completing her Internal Medicine Residency and Cardiology Fellowship at Temple University Hospital. She is Board Certified in General Cardiology, Nuclear Cardiology, and Echocardiography.

She is a clinical cardiologist in the Emory Center for Heart Disease Prevention. She is a dedicated educator and serves as the CME Course Co-Director for both the Emory Symposium on Coronary Atherosclerosis Prevention and Education (ESCAPE) Conference and the Annual Emory Women and Heart Disease Conference. Dr. Isiadinso is Director of the Emory Women’s Heart Center at Decatur and Lithonia. She is passionate about preventing heart disease in women.

Request an appointment by calling 404-778-7777.

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