Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease that can affect organs and tissues throughout your body, and your heart is no exception. One of the many cardiovascular problems that lupus can cause is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a serious disease that is characterized by the buildup of plaque inside your arteries. Here are four things lupus sufferers need to know about atherosclerosis.
How does lupus cause atherosclerosis?
Studies have shown that lupus increases your risk of having atherosclerosis by a whopping 140 percent. If you're younger than 40 years old, the risk is even scarier: a 480 percent increase. Researchers think that the chronic system inflammation associated with lupus is responsible for this increased risk. This inflammation occurs when your immune cells attack your own healthy cells and bond to them, forming what's known as immune complexes. These immune complexes are responsible for the inflammation and complications you experience.
In healthy people, the main risk factors for atherosclerosis are lifestyle factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use, and diabetes. In people with lupus, atherosclerosis can occur in the absence of all of these risk factors, so even if you're living a perfectly healthy lifestyle, your lupus puts you at risk of cardiac disease.
What problems can atherosclerosis cause?
Atherosclerosis can cause a wide variety of problems. Since any artery in your body can be affected, the complications can vary based on which arteries are impacted. If plaque builds up in your coronary arteries (the arteries that supply your heart), you could suffer from chest pain or even a heart attack. If plaque builds up in your carotid arteries (the arteries that supply your brain), you could have a stroke. Plaque can also build up in the arteries that supply various other organs in your body, like your kidneys. Kidney disease or even kidney failure can result from the buildup of plaque.
What are the signs of atherosclerosis?
In mild cases, atherosclerosis doesn't cause any symptoms. To help detect this condition early, your doctor may recommend regular screening tests such as ultrasounds or electrocardiograms; this is due to your increased risk of developing atherosclerosis.
Moderate to severe cases of atherosclerosis causes a variety of symptoms that can warn you that something is wrong. The symptoms will vary depending on which arteries are affected. You may feel chest pain, numbness in your arms or legs, or leg pain. High blood pressure can also be a warning sign of atherosclerosis. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away for testing.
How is atherosclerosis treated?
In mild cases, atherosclerosis can be treated with medications. These medications can help to prevent blood clots from forming in your narrowed arteries. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe a medication to lower your blood pressure to a healthier level.
In severe cases, medications may not be enough. You may need to have a medical procedure known as an angioplasty. During this procedure, a flexible tube will be inserted into your arm or groin and threaded through your blood vessels until the affected artery is reached. A tiny balloon on the end of the tube will be carefully inflated, which presses the plaque against the walls of your artery and allows more blood to pass through.
To prevent a recurrence, your doctor will need to ensure that your lupus is well-controlled. According to New York-Presbyterian, immunosuppressive treatments can help prevent atherosclerosis. These treatments include medications like prednisone or cyclophosphamide. Since these medications can have serious side effects, your doctor will need to monitor you closely while you're taking them.
If you have lupus and are concerned about atherosclerosis, visit a hospital, such as Van Wert County Hospital, and talk to your doctor right away for heart disease treatment.
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