Cardiovascular Disease in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: Recent Data on Epidemiology, Risk Factors and Prevention

Curr Vasc Pharmacol. 2020;18(6):549-565. doi: 10.2174/1570161118666191227101636.


Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is associated with increased risk for accelerated atherosclerosis and cardiovascular (CV) events including coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular and peripheral artery disease. CV events occur both early and late during the disease course, with younger patients being at much higher risk than age-matched counterparts. The risk cannot be fully accounted for by the increased prevalence of traditional atherosclerotic factors and may be due to pathophysiologic intermediates such as type I interferons and other inflammatory cytokines, oxidative stress, activated granulocytes and production of extracellular chromatin traps, antiphospholipid and other autoantibodies causing dysfunction of lipoproteins, altogether resulting in endothelial injury and pro-atherogenic dyslipidaemia. These mechanisms may be further aggravated by chronic intake of prednisone (even at doses <7.5 mg/day), whereas immunomodulatory drugs, especially hydroxychloroquine, may exert antiatherogenic properties. To date, there is a paucity of randomized studies regarding the effectiveness of preventative strategies and pharmacological interventions specifically in patients with SLE. Nevertheless, both the European League Against Rheumatism recommendations and extrapolated evidence from the general population emphasize that SLE patients should undergo regular monitoring for atherosclerotic risk factors and calculation of the 10-year CV risk. Risk stratification should include diseaserelated factors and accordingly, general (lifestyle modifications/smoking cessation, antihypertensive and statin treatment, low-dose aspirin in selected cases) and SLE-specific (control of disease activity, minimization of glucocorticoids, use of hydroxychloroquine) preventive measures be applied as appropriate. Further studies will be required regarding the use of non-invasive tools and biomarkers for CV assessment and of risk-lowering strategies tailored to SLE.

Keywords: Autoimmune disease; antiphospholipid antibodies; cerebrovascular disease; dyslipidaemia; glucocorticoids; ischemic heart disease; statin; type I interferon.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / immunology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Comorbidity
  • Heart Disease Risk Factors
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / adverse effects
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Life Style
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / drug therapy*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / epidemiology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology
  • Prognosis
  • Protective Factors
  • Risk Assessment


  • Immunologic Factors