Complications of Lupus - Topic Overview
Heart problems caused by lupus
- Inflammation of the sac around the heart (pericarditis). This is the most common lupus-related heart
- Hardening of the arteries that supply blood to the heart
muscle. People with lupus are at increased
risk for plaque deposits in arteries (atherosclerosis) that may cause coronary artery
disease. They are also likely to develop plaque deposits at an earlier age than
people who do not have lupus.
- Diseases of the heart valves. A few people
with lupus may have slightly thickened heart valves, which makes them more
susceptible to infections of the damaged valves (endocarditis),
blood clots, or
heart failure. Some people with damaged heart valves
may need surgery to replace the valves.
- Inflammation of the heart
muscle (myocarditis), which is uncommon but may lead to
problems with the heartbeat or heart muscle. The heart may beat too fast, too
slow, or irregularly.
About 1 out of 3 people who have lupus develop
inflammation of the tissue around the lungs.1
Sometimes this causes no symptoms. At other times it causes painful
breathing, coughing, or chest pain that is worse with a deep breath (pleurisy). Many people with lupus have chest pain when
they breathe. When this pain is not caused by pleurisy, it is commonly caused
by inflammation of the chest muscle, cartilage, or ligaments, or of the joints
that connect the ribs to the breastbone (costochondral joints). In these cases,
the lungs may not be affected.
Less common lung problems
with lupus include fever, cough, and inflammation of the lung tissue
(acute lupus pneumonitis). Some people with lupus produce an antibody that
causes their blood to clot more easily (antiphospholipid antibody). These people may be at risk for clots
in the lung (pulmonary emboli). An unusual
complication is the buildup of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), caused by heart or kidney problems.
Blood-related problems are
common in people who have lupus, but they do not always cause detectable
symptoms. These problems, which in a few cases are severe and even
- Changes in red blood cells, which carry oxygen;
white blood cells, which fight infection; and platelets, which help the blood
- Anemia caused by the destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia), low white blood cell count (leukopenia), or low platelet count (thrombocytopenia). Anemia can be caused by both lupus
and the medicines used to treat it.
- Changes in organs related to
circulation, such as the
- Production of antibodies that
attack certain blood-clotting factors, causing the blood to clot easily. These
antibodies are produced by about 1 out of 3 people who have lupus.1 They can cause a condition, called
antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, which can lead to
mild or severe blood-clotting complications.