Lupus, Other Autoimmune Diseases Linked to Increased Risk for Cardiovascular Diseases and Death

Patricia Inacio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inacio, PhD |

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A large group study following almost 1 million people for more than six years shows that patients with autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), have a significantly greater risk for cardiovascular disease and death.

The research, “The Association Between Chronic Immune-Mediated Inflammatory Diseases and Cardiovascular Risk,” was published in the journal Heart.

Several studies have linked autoimmune diseases to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. These include lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic sclerosis, and ankylosing spondylitis. But because each study used its own enrollment criteria, a direct comparison of risk factors has been difficult.

Now, researchers from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) and Institut Universitari d’Investigació en Atenció Primària (IDIAP Jordi Gol), Barcelona, Spain performed a six-year study following a group of individuals with different autoimmune diseases, to determine their risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Reaching almost 1 million people aged 35-85 years, study participants were recruited in Catalonia, Spain.

“We wanted to determine whether the risk of suffering a coronary heart disease, stroke, or overall mortality was increased in people suffering autoimmune inflammatory diseases including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, or ankylosing spondylitis, among other illnesses, and establish the incidence of each pathology,” María Grau, PhD, researcher in the IMIM’s Cardiovascular Epidemiology research group and study lead author, said in a press release.

The analysis showed that individuals with systemic connective tissue disorders, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, had an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and death. The risk was still significant, although not as high, in individuals with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.

Although previous studies had pointed to these same conclusions, the large sample of individuals in this study group reinforces these findings.

“It is believed that the increased risk of cardiovascular problems and mortality in rheumatoid arthritis and lupus is due to the interaction of inflammation, metabolic factors, therapy, and disease-related factors,” said Grau.

The team emphasizes that the focus is to control systemic inflammation and cardiovascular risk factors in these patients. As such, “the development of new tools for the prediction of cardiovascular events, which could incorporate chronic immune-mediated inflammatory diseases activity biomarkers, may help reduce the incidence of such events,” the study authors concluded.