Cardiovascular complications of collagen vascular disease

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Opinion statement

  • Collagen vascular diseases commonly affect the heart; cardiovascular events are the major cause of mortality in people with these diseases.

  • A striking feature of the cardiac involvement in individuals with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis is aggressive and accelerated atherosclerosis; women with SLE in the 35-to 44-year-old age group are more than 50 times more likely to suffer myocardial infarction than are matched controls.

  • Traditional risk factors contribute to the accelerated atherosclerosis, but cannot explain the extent of risk. It is possible that the inflammatory process, which is similar to the inflammatory process in atherosclerosis, pays a critical pathophysiologic role.

  • It is critically important to identify the presence of traditional cardiovascular risk factors (eg, tobacco usage, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, homocysteinemia), and to modify these to secondary prevention targets.

  • Cardiac valvular disease is common in individuals with SLE and rheumatoid arthritis; its presence should be anticipated and subacute bacterial endocarditis prophylaxis precautions initiated.

  • Cardiac autonomic neuropathy and conduction disturbances are common in people with heart disease related to systemic sclerosis and human leukocyte antigen B27; these patients should be monitored carefully for evidence of dysrhythmias.