Blood Test to Detect Hardened Arteries Can Show Whether Lupus Patients Are Developing a Heart Disease

Maria Verissimo, MSc avatar

by Maria Verissimo, MSc |

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Lupus heart and heart disease

A biomarker of hardened arteries makes it eight times more likely that a lupus patient will develop a cardiovascular disease, according to a study.

The presence of the marker could prompt lupus patients with no symptoms of heart disease, or who appear to be at low risk of developing it, to take preventative measures against hardening of the arteries. The condition, which doctors call atherosclerosis, stems from an accumulation of fatty deposits, or plaque, in arteries.

The biomarker, known as High Sensitivity Cardiac Troponin T, or HS-cTnT, shows up in a blood test. Before the team introduces the test to doctors, they plan studies that verify its ability to detect atherosclerosis.

Researchers presented the results of the study at the annual European Congress of Rheumatology in Madrid, June 14-17.

None of the lupus patients in the study, nor the healthy controls, had any symptoms of cardiovascular disease. And all were at low risk of developing it, traditional tests indicated.

But researchers found signs of carotid fatty deposits in 36.5 percent of lupus patients — 23 out of 63. In contrast, only 11.1 percent — two out of 18 — of the healthy controls showed similar signs.

The research team concluded that only patients’ age and the level of their lupus were independently associated with the presence of carotid fatty deposits.

Eighty-seven percent of lupus patients with signs of carotid fatty deposits had the biomarker in their blood. That was true of only 42.5 percent of patients without signs, researchers said.

In addition, only 11.5 percent of patients with undetectable levels of the marker had carotid fatty deposits.

“The results of our study raise the possibility that this easily measured biomarker could be introduced into clinical practice as a more reliable way of evaluating CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk in lupus patients,” Karim Sacre of Bichat Hospital in Paris said in a press release. “This in turn will enable more effective primary prevention measures, such as treating abnormally raised blood lipids to be implemented,” added Sacre, the lead author of the study.

Better therapies have increased the life expectancy of lupus patients. But cardiovascular diseases have emerged as a major cause of death among them.

The blood test could increase the chance of early detection of atherosclerosis in lupus patients, a condition that traditional tests underestimate.

“Before introducing this new biomarker into clinical practice, we are conducting further research to confirm our findings on a larger cohort of patients, with a longer follow-up period, analyzing not only carotid plaques, but also the occurrence of major cardiovascular events,” Sacre said.