Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease that most commonly affects women under the age of 50. The skin, joints, kidneys, and brain are the primary sites affected.
Women with lupus are also at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The U. S. National Library of Medicine's PubMed Health web site recommended preventive heart care as part of the treatment program.
Dr. Maureen McMahon of UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles, California, and colleagues investigated factors that can be measured in blood tests for women with lupus.
“Young women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have up to a 50 times higher risk of cardiovascular events than age-matched controls, even after consideration of traditional Framingham risk factors,” McMahon explained.
The study focused on the biomolecules leptin and adiponectin and their association to atherosclerosis in SLE patients. Leptin is part of the body's regulatory system for food intake, body weight, and fat stores.
High levels of leptin have been associated with obesity, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. McMahon suggested that obese individuals develop leptin resistance, similar to the insulin resistance found in type II diabetic patients.
Adiponectin is involved in both energy homeostasis and immune modulation. Lower than normal levels of adiponectin are found in individuals with type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
McMahon's study included 250 patients with SLE and 122 healthy controls. Cardiovascular health was measured by ultrasound imaging of the carotid arteries. Atherosclerotic plaques were recorded as an indication of artery health.
The PubMed website explained that atherosclerotic plaques are also known as hardening of the arteries, arteriosclerosis, or atherosclerosis. The plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances.
Plaque in the arteries makes them stiffer and impedes the flow of blood. Blood clots sometimes form in arteries with plaque. In addition, pieces of plaque can break off and travel to smaller blood vessels.
Both clots and plaque can block blood flow and cause tissue damage.