Lupus and Heart Disease

Lupus, a serious autoimmune disease, can wreak havoc on many parts of your body, but your heart is near the very top of the list. Cardiovascular disease is the number-one cause of death for lupus patients, and trouble often ensues at an early age. Women ages 35 to 44 who have lupus are 50 times more likely to have a heart attack compared to other women of the same age.

While experts have long known about this link, most of the research to date has focused on white patients. To determine whether minorities are equally at risk, researchers at Columbia University College of Physician and Surgeons conducted a study focusing on young black and Hispanic lupus patients.

The study, which was published in the journal Lupus Science & Medicine, involved 76 lupus patients age 18 to 65 who were mostly people of color. None of them had clinical evidence of cardiovascular disease, though some had other risk factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes. But when participants had a chest CT, researchers found that many had evidence of coronary calcium deposits that narrow blood vessels to the heart and substantially increase the risk of heart attack. Older lupus patients had the greatest amount of calcium in their vessels (as measured by coronary artery calcium scores), but 29 percent of the youngest patients (ages 18 to 32) already had some buildup.

Researchers also compared a subset of the lupus group — those under age 45 — with a control group of healthy young adults ages 33 to 45. Those with lupus were, not surprisingly, more likely to have coronary calcium deposits.

“The high prevalence [of coronary artery deposits] in patients in this young, predominantly female, minority population is disquieting and warrants further investigation,” the authors wrote.

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