Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Lupus Health Center

Font Size

Complications of Lupus - Topic Overview

Heart problems

Heart problems caused by lupus include:3

  • Inflammation of the sac around the heart (pericarditis). This is the most common lupus-related heart problem.
  • 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.

Lung problems

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

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 life-threatening, include:

  • Changes in red blood cells, which carry oxygen; white blood cells, which fight infection; and platelets, which help the blood clot.
  • 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 spleen or lymph nodes.
  • 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.
1|2|3

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 10, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Lupus Overview Slideshow
Slideshow
sunburst filtering through leaves
Article
 
lupus medication
Article
Trainer demonstrating exercise for RA
Slideshow
 
Woman rubbing shoulder
Slideshow
Bag of cosmetics
Video
 
young woman hiding face
Quiz
pregnant woman
Article
 
5 Lupus Risk Factors
Article
Young adult couple
Article
 
doctor advising patient
Article
sticky notes on face
Video
 

WebMD Special Sections