The heart and lungs are frequently affected in people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Complications in these organs can cause a variety of problems, ranging from mild to serious or even life-threatening. These complications are known as cardiopulmonary (cardio = heart; pulmonary = lung).
It is very important to know the differences between cardiopulmonary complications and non-lupus related problems. The medical examination and laboratory and other tests will help to determine the cause of the problem so appropriate therapy can be used.
Types of Heart or Lung Involvement in Lupus
When investigating a person with cardiopulmonary symptoms, a number of possible causes must be considered. Some problems that can occur in SLE are:
- Pericarditis: inflammation of the lining of the heart
- Myocarditis: inflammation of the tissue of the heart
- Coronary vasculitis: inflammation of blood vessels in the heart
- Pleuritis: inflammation of the sac around the lung
- Pneumonitis: inflammation of the lung
- Pulmonary emboli: blood clots in the lung
Other possible cardiopulmonary problems
Heart and lung problems that are not necessarily lupus-related include:
- Infectious pneumonia: inflammation of the lung due to an infection
- Esophageal spasm: spasm of the section of the digestive tract leading from the mouth to the stomach
- Reflux esophagitis: inflammation of the esophagus due to backflow of contents of the stomach into the esophagus
- Costochondritis: inflammation of the cartilage of the ribs, usually around the breast bone
Cardiac (Heart) Involvement
Lupus can involve all parts of the heart:
- Pericardium: sac surrounding the heart
- Myocardium: muscle layer of the heart
- Endocardium: lining of the inside of the heart
- Coronary arteries that take blood to the heart
Pericarditis, or inflammation of the sac around the heart, is the most common heart involvement in people with lupus. This condition occurs when antigen-antibody complexes-also known as immune complexes-are made during active lupus and cause inflammation within the pericardium.