The risk for coronary artery disease and strokes is greatly increased in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), especially among young women, who are usually protected against these disorders. In one study the risk of a heart attack or other coronary event was 50 times higher in women between the ages of 35 and 44 who had lupus than in a comparable group of women in the same age range who did not have the disease.
Perhaps this high risk of cardiovascular diseases in patients with lupus shouldn't be surprising. Inflammation is a striking feature of SLE, and inflammation within the arterial walls is an important component in the development of atherosclerosis, which leads to most cardiovascular disease. In addition, however, other major risk factors for cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure, abnormal levels of blood lipids and lipoproteins, and kidney disease are common in patients with lupus. For these reasons, close attention to and treatment of these risk factors is an important aspect of the management of patients with lupus.
People with rheumatoid arthritis, another inflammatory disease that affects almost 1 percent of the population, also have a significantly increased incidence of cardiovascular disease even though they are not especially burdened with the common risk factors for atherosclerosis.