Aortic Atherosclerosis in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Academic Article uri icon


  • Aortic atherosclerosis (AoA) defined as intima-media thickening or plaques and aortic stiffness (AoS) also considered an atherosclerotic process and defined as decreased vessel distensibility (higher pulse pressure to achieve similar degree of vessel distension) are common in patients with SLE. Immune-mediated inflammation, thrombogenesis, traditional atherogenic factors, and therapy-related metabolic abnormalities are the main pathogenic factors of AoA and AoS. Pathology of AoA and AoS suggests an initial subclinical endothelialitis or vasculitis, which is exacerbated by thrombogenesis and atherogenic factors and ultimately resulting in AoA and AoS. Computed tomography (CT) for detection of arterial wall calcifications and arterial tonometry for detection of increased arterial pulse wave velocity are the most common diagnostic methods for detecting AoA and AoS, respectively. MRI may become a more applicable and accurate technique than CT. Although transesophageal echocardiography accurately detects earlier and advanced stages of AoA and AoS, it is semi-invasive and cannot be used as a screening method. Although imaging techniques demonstrate highly variable prevalence rates, on average about one third of adult SLE patients may have AoA or AoS. Age at SLE diagnosis; SLE duration; activity and damage; corticosteroid therapy; metabolic syndrome; chronic kidney disease; and mitral annular calcification are common independent predictors of AoA and AoS. Also, AoA and AoS are highly associated with carotid and coronary atherosclerosis. Earlier stages of AoA and AoS are usually subclinical. However, earlier stages of disease may be causally related or contribute to peripheral or cerebral embolism, pre-hypertension and hypertension, and increased left ventricular afterload resulting in left ventricular hypertrophy and diastolic dysfunction. Later stages of disease predisposes to visceral ischemia, aortic aneurysms and aortic dissection. Even earlier stages of AoA and AoS have been associated with increased cardiovascular and cerebrovascular morbidity and mortality of SLE patients. Aggressive non-steroidal immunosuppressive therapy and non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic interventions for control of atherogenic risk factors may prevent the development or progression of AoA and AoS and may decrease cardiovascular and cerebrovascular morbidity and mortality in SLE.