OBJECTIVES: Premature carotid and coronary atherosclerosis are common in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), but data on aortic atherosclerosis (AA) are limited. Thus, using multiplane transesophageal echocardiography (TEE), we sought to determine the prevalence and clinical correlates of AA in patients with SLE.
METHODS: Forty-seven patients with SLE (44 women, age 38 +/- 12 years) and 21 healthy controls (19 women, age 34 +/- 12 years) underwent clinical and laboratory evaluations and TEE to assess AA defined as aortic intima media thickness (IMT) > 0.86 mm or plaques as > 50% focal IMT as compared with surrounding walls. TEE studies were interpreted by an experienced observer unaware of subjects’ clinical data.
RESULTS: The prevalence of abnormal aortic IMT, plaques, or both lesions was higher in patients as compared to controls (37%, 23%, and 43% vs 14%, 0%, and 14%, respectively, all p <0.02). In patients, age at diagnosis of SLE was the only positive independent predictor of AA [OR 1.12 per year from diagnosis of SLE, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04-1.19, p = 0.001] and cyclophosphamide therapy was the only negative independent predictor of AA (OR 0.186, 95% CI 0.153-0.95, p = 0.04, equivalent to 5.4 times less likely to develop AA).
CONCLUSIONS: AA is common in young patients with SLE and is predicted by a later age at diagnosis of SLE, but is negatively correlated with cyclophosphamide therapy. Thus, early diagnosis and more aggressive immunosuppressive therapy may be required to decrease the development and progression of atherosclerosis in patients with SLE.
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