A comparison study shows that systemic lupus erythematosus is independently linked to premature heart disease.
In systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the immune system causes widespread inflammation which, in turn, leads to organ damage. One feature of SLE is premature heart disease. A team at Cornell University, New York, has been trying to establish whether SLE itself or more traditional risk factors, like high cholesterol, are responsible for heart disease in this group.
They used ultrasound to look at the deposition of plaque in the carotid arteries, which lead from the neck to the brain. This is proving a good method of screening for heart disease. A group of 197 patients with SLE and 197 matched controls was examined using this method. The researchers found that 37.1 per cent of those in the SLE group had carotid plaque, compared to just 15.2 per cent in the control group. Older age, the presence of SLE, and high cholesterol were the independent risk factors for carotid plaque. The researchers conclude that the premature heart disease occurring in people with SLE is independent of the traditional risk factors for the disease. SLE is, in itself, a risk factor and more focused research is needed on anti-inflammatory therapy for this disease.