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Lupus and Risk for Cardiovascular Disease

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Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease that most commonly affects women under the age of 50. The skin, joints, kidneys, and brain are the primary sites affected.

Women with lupus are also at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The U. S. National Library of Medicine's PubMed Health web site recommended preventive heart care as part of the treatment program.

Dr. Maureen McMahon of UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles, California, and colleagues investigated factors that can be measured in blood tests for women with lupus.

“Young women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have up to a 50 times higher risk of cardiovascular events than age-matched controls, even after consideration of traditional Framingham risk factors,” McMahon explained.

The study focused on the biomolecules leptin and adiponectin and their association to atherosclerosis in SLE patients. Leptin is part of the body's regulatory system for food intake, body weight, and fat stores.

High levels of leptin have been associated with obesity, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. McMahon suggested that obese individuals develop leptin resistance, similar to the insulin resistance found in type II diabetic patients.

Adiponectin is involved in both energy homeostasis and immune modulation. Lower than normal levels of adiponectin are found in individuals with type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

McMahon's study included 250 patients with SLE and 122 healthy controls. Cardiovascular health was measured by ultrasound imaging of the carotid arteries. Atherosclerotic plaques were recorded as an indication of artery health.

The PubMed website explained that atherosclerotic plaques are also known as hardening of the arteries, arteriosclerosis, or atherosclerosis. The plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances.

Plaque in the arteries makes them stiffer and impedes the flow of blood. Blood clots sometimes form in arteries with plaque. In addition, pieces of plaque can break off and travel to smaller blood vessels.

Both clots and plaque can block blood flow and cause tissue damage. Heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and lung disease are all complications of atherosclerotic plaque formation.

McMahon found that SLE patients with early atherosclerotic plaques had significantly higher levels of leptin than individuals with healthy arteries. Adiponectin was not found to be important.

“High leptin levels may help to identify patients with SLE at risk of atherosclerosis,” she concluded.


1. PubMed Health. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Web. Jan. 15, 2011.

2. McMahon M et al, “High plasma leptin levels confer increased risk of atherosclerosis in women with systemic lupus erythematosus, and are associated with inflammatory oxidised lipids”, Ann Rheum Dis 2011; 70: 1619-24. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21670088

3. PubMed Health. Hardening of the Arteries. Web. Jan. 15, 2011.

Reviewed January 25, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment1 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Ok, so the Doctors have found this protein in the blood leptin, that causes heart and blood clot problems. So now, they need to research a way, or remedy to control these levels. Plain and simple.

January 28, 2012 - 7:24am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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