Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that can affect any organ including the heart and this can be a major complication of lupus. Heart disease is present in one in 3 people with lupus.
It is now recognised that coronary heart disease such as heart attacks are more common in lupus patients. The reasons are not clear but are likely to be due to many factors such as inflammation from lupus added to other risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. High doses of steroids over long periods can also increase cholesterol levels and blood pressure and specialists now try hard to either avoid long term steroids or use only the smallest effective dose for the shortest time.
Risks factors for heart disease: gender (males are at greater risk), age (the older you get, the higher your risk), family history of heart disease, being post-menopausal, smoking, high LDL, or "bad" cholesterol and low HDL, or "good" cholesterol, uncontrolled high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity, uncontrolled diabetes.
Although having lupus by itself means a patient is more likely to develop coronary artery disease, changes in lifestyle can help protect your heart. General advice is to: stop smoking, take regular exercise, keep weight under control/follow a healthy diet, improve cholesterol levels, control blood pressure levels (helped by diet and exercise), manage stress.
Other heart complications include pericarditis which causes similar symptoms to pleurisy. This is due to inflammation of the lining of the membrane around the heart the pericardium.
Less commonly, the heart itself may become inflamed – myocarditis. Patients with heart involvement from lupus may need to see a cardiology specialist for help with diagnosis.