Because lupus can affect any organ system, including the cardiovascular system (which includes the heart and blood vessels), some patients can experience fluid around the heart or heart inflammation. Recent reports suggest that patients with a chronic autoimmune disease, such as lupus, may also be at increased risk of heart disease (also called atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease).
Heart disease is a condition where fatty substances, called plaque, build up in the heart's arteries. The plaque hardens and makes the arteries narrower, affecting blood flow. This can lead to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
At this time, researchers are unsure of the true cause of the increased risk of heart disease, but chronic inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases may be partially responsible. Other potential risk factors include medications, such as corticosteroids.
More traditional risk factors such as type-2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels, family history of heart disease, and hypertension can also increase the chance of heart disease.
Interestingly, the increased risk of heart disease seen in lupus patients appears to be separate from these more traditional risk factors, suggesting that lupus is to blame. However, it is still recommended that physicians try to limit the traditional, modifiable risk factors in these patients to best prevent the development of heart disease.