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Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2005 Sep;25(9):1776-85. Epub 2005 Jun 23.

Atherosclerosis in patients with autoimmune disorders.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Karolinska University Hospital, Huddinge, 141 86 Stockholm, Sweden.


Recent findings indicate that presence of activated immune competent cells and inflammation are typical of atherosclerosis, the main cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The risk of CVD is very high in a prototypic autoimmune disease, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and is also raised in other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Autoimmunity-related CVD and atherosclerosis are important clinical problems. They may also shed light on interactions between immune reactions and atherosclerosis development and manifestations, not least in women, who have a much higher risk of autoimmune disease than men. In general, a combination of traditional and nontraditional risk factors, including dyslipidemia (and to a varying degree, hypertension, diabetes, and smoking), inflammation, antiphospholipid antibodies (aPLs), and lipid oxidation, contribute to CVD in autoimmune diseases. Premature atherosclerosis is likely to be a major underlying mechanism, although distinctive features, if any, of autoimmunity-related atherosclerosis compared with "normal" atherosclerosis are not clear. One interesting possibility is that factors such as inflammation, neoepitopes on endothelial cells, or aPLs make atherosclerotic lesions in autoimmune disease more prone to rupture than in "normal" atherosclerosis. Some cases of autoimmunity-related CVD may be more related to thrombosis than atherosclerosis. Whether premature atherosclerosis is a general feature of autoimmune diseases such as SLE or only affects a subgroup of patients whereas others do not have an increased risk remains to be demonstrated. Treatment of patients with autoimmune disease should also include CVD aspects and be focused on traditional risk factors as well as on disease-related factors. Hopefully novel therapeutic principles will be developed that target the causes of the inflammation present in atherosclerotic lesions.

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