How Lupus Affects Your Heart Health

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune condition. In people with lupus, the immune system becomes overactive. It attacks healthy tissues, which can cause a range of symptoms, including fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, fever, dry eyes, and chest pain. Lupus symptoms can be unpredictable and can flare up at any time. This can make it difficult to plan and carry out daily activities. Because the symptoms can be similar to those of other diseases, it can also be challenging to diagnose, and some people may go undiagnosed for years.

The cause of lupus appears to be multifactorial and complex. While the exact cause is still not fully understood, it is believed to be a result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors, says the Mayo Clinic

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common and serious type of lupus, making up 70% of all cases.

As an autoimmune disease, lupus can affect different organs, including the kidneys, lungs, and brain. The condition can also affect the heart — a major player in regulating the body's circulatory system. 

The ways in which lupus can affect your heart

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus can affect the heart by causing inflammation in the sac surrounding the heart, a condition known as pericarditis. This condition can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. In severe cases, pericarditis can lead to a buildup of fluid around the heart, which can pressure the heart and impair its ability to pump blood. 

Lupus can also cause inflammation in the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque that can narrow and harden the arteries. This can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition, lupus can cause blood clots to form in the blood vessels, which can also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Moreover, lupus can cause damage to the heart muscle itself, a condition known as myocarditis, explains the Lupus Foundation of America. This can cause symptoms such as irregular heartbeat, fatigue, and chest pain.

How to keep your heart healthy when you have lupus

If you have lupus, taking steps to maintain good heart health is vital. Also, it's important to work closely with your healthcare providers to manage your lupus symptoms and any underlying health conditions that could increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Regular check-ups, including monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and heart function, can help detect and manage any heart-related complications of lupus.

One of the most important things you can do to reduce your heart disease risk is to quit smoking, warns the Lupus Foundation of America. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, and if you smoke, quitting is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your heart. Talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit smoking.

Eating a heart-healthy diet is also important for maintaining good heart health when you have lupus. Focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and healthy fats, and limit your intake of processed and high-fat foods, advises WebMD. Physical activity is another important way to keep your heart healthy when you have lupus. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, it's best to stick to moderate-intensity exercises — such as walking, swimming, or cycling — most days of the week. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program to ensure it is safe.