Importance of Managing Blood Pressure With Lupus

Last updated: March 2022

Heart complications such as heart disease, heart attack, cerebrovascular disease, and stroke, are more common in people with lupus than the general population. These complications are one of the leading causes of death. The activity of the disease itself, coupled with increased risk from corticosteroids often used as part of treatment, can suppress the immune system and increase the risk for heart problems.1

High blood pressure in people with lupus

High blood pressure — or hypertension — is also common in people living with lupus. In fact, 50 percent of people with lupus have blood pressure greater than 140/90 mmHg, and nearly 75 percent of people with lupus have blood pressure greater than what is considered normal in healthy patients, which is 120/80 mmHg.2,3

High blood pressure in people with lupus is commonly caused by obesity, kidney disease, and long-term steroid use. Some other treatments prescribed for lupus, such as cyclosporine, may also contribute to high blood pressure.2

New research leads to new guidelines

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have adjusted the definition of high blood pressure for people with lupus, increasing the bottom level of normal from 120/80 mmHg to 130/80 mmHg. Why the change? In a recent study, researchers concluded that people with blood pressure greater than 130/80 mmHg had a 2 and half times greater risk of cardiac events, such as coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular event (which is defined as a blockage of blood supply to the brain), or blood circulation disorder, than people with blood pressure at or below 130/80 mmHg.3

How to reduce the risk of high blood pressure

There are many lifestyle factors that can contribute to high blood pressure for people living with lupus:1

Diet

A healthy diet is one way to reduce the risk of heart complications associated with high blood pressure. A healthy diet includes:

  • 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily
  • Whole grain, high fiber foods
  • 2 servings of fish per week
  • Reducing salt intake
  • Limiting alcohol
  • A diet low in saturated and trans fat and cholesterol

Exercise

Regular physical activity can reduce stress and joint pain that often accompanies lupus. Consider:

  • Low impact exercises such as Pilates or tai chi
  • Physical therapy to soothe joints and strengthen muscles

Obesity

Extra weight increases the volume and muscle wall stress on the heart. Obesity is also often linked with high blood pressure.

Smoking

Smoking can cause stiffening of the arteries in people with lupus, as well as in healthy individuals. All people living with lupus should consider quitting smoking.

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