4 Things Lupus Sufferers Need To Know About Coronary Artery Disease

Lupus is a serious inflammatory disease. In people with lupus, the immune system targets the body's own healthy tissues, leading to inflammation and tissue damage. The disease can affect your entire body, including your heart and arteries. One of the heart-related complications of lupus is coronary artery disease; here are four things you need to know about it.

What is coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease is used to refer to atherosclerosis of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. It occurs when fats and cholesterols (called plaques) build up on the walls of your arteries, which makes the arteries narrower and restricts blood flow. This decreased blood flow can damage your heart by starving it of necessary oxygen. The plaques can also break off and cause a blood clot, which can then lead to a heart attack.

How does lupus cause coronary artery disease?

Lupus increases your risk of developing coronary artery disease. This is the case for a few reasons. It may occur as a result of the disease itself; this happens when your antibodies mistakenly target your arteries, leading to inflammation and narrowing.

Even if lupus doesn't directly attack your arteries, the damage it does to other parts of your body can increase your risk of developing coronary artery disease. For example, the fatigue, muscle pain, or joint pain that can accompany lupus may discourage you from exercising and may make exercise impossible.

It can also occur as a result of the drugs that are used to keep your lupus under control. Corticosteroids are used to control inflammation, but they can also lead to hypertension (high blood pressure), elevated cholesterol levels, and type 2 diabetes, which are all risk factors for coronary artery disease.

What are the signs of coronary artery disease?

Angina, also called chest pain, is the most common symptom of this disease. This pain can vary significantly between sufferers, and has been described as heaviness, pressure, burning, or squeezing. Some people also mistake the chest pain for something less serious, like heartburn. Since this chest pain can present in so many different ways, it can be hard to identify. This pain tends to last for just a few minutes, but don't ignore it, as it is a sign of serious problems.

Not everyone with coronary artery disease experiences chest pain. Only 30% of women with this disease report experiencing chest pain, which can complicate diagnosis for lupus sufferers because 90% of people with lupus are women. Instead, women report pain in seemingly-unrelated areas like their jaw, back, or arms. Vague signs like fatigue, sweating, and nausea can also be symptoms of coronary artery disease. These symptoms also pass quickly.

Since these symptoms pass quickly and are fairly easy to ignore, most people with coronary artery disease aren't diagnosed until they experience a cardiac event. Due to your increased risk of the condition, your doctor may recommend diagnostic testing such as echocardiography to find problems sooner.

How is it treated?

If you develop coronary artery disease, it can be treated with medications. These medications include the following:

  • Beta blockers, which treat angina and lower blood pressure;
  • Stains, which lower cholesterol levels;
  • Nitrates; which widen your blood vessels;
  • Calcium channel blockers, which also widen your blood vessels;
  • Anti-platelet agents, which help prevent blood clots.

If necessary, medical procedures like percutaneous coronary intervention are available. During this procedure, a cardiologist will insert a catheter with a small balloon on the end into your blood vessel and direct it to the affected artery near your heart. Once the catheter is in place, the balloon will be inflated, which compresses the plaque and widens your artery.

If you have lupus, make sure to stay alert for the signs of coronary artery disease. For more information, contact experienced doctors at a facility like Van Wert County Hospital