A heart monitor line forms the shape of a heart in the middle.

Study: Black People with Lupus May Have Higher Risk for Stroke and Heart Disease

New information sheds more light on the relationship between race and lupus and invites Black people with lupus to talk to their doctors about their risk of heart disease and stroke.

We have long known that lupus is more common in people of color compared to white people. According to research compiled by the Lupus Foundation of America, 1 in 537 young Black women have lupus, and they are more likely to develop the disease earlier in life than non-Black women. Additionally, Black people with lupus are more likely than their white counterparts to have more severe disease and less social support. Worse, Black people with lupus are also more likely to die from the disease.1,2

Racial differences in diseases are most often due to the effects of discrimination, which leads to unhealthy stress for people of color. People of color also tend to have less access to community support, a healthy and safe living environment, and affordable healthcare – all things that can present huge challenges to health.3

Unfortunately, Black people with lupus may have yet another reason to worry: possible increased risk of heart disease and stroke.3

Study shows an increased risk of heart disease

A study of people with lupus in Georgia found that Black people’s risk of stroke was 3 times higher than that of non-Black study participants. Also, their risk of developing heart disease was 24 times higher.3

The study also found some clues about how to know if a person had a higher risk of stroke or heart disease.

In all study participants, renal (kidney) disorder and discoid rash tended to come before a stroke. A discoid rash is a known symptom of lupus that can cause round red or pink patches that can be raw, blistered, or scaly. It can also show up as a change in skin’s pigment (color), hair loss, or brittle fingernails. Talk to a rheumatologist or dermatologist if you experience this, especially if you are Black.3

People who had heart disease were often diagnosed with neurologic (brain-related) or immunologic disorders before they were diagnosed with heart disease.3

What can we do to protect heart health?

Black people with lupus are at risk for more severe symptoms of lupus in general, but this new information makes it especially important to talk to a doctor about prevention and screening for heart disease. The usual advice also stands: Exercise regularly, eat a heart-healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and cut back on saturated fat (the kind found in fatty red meats and fried foods).3

Another way to show love for your heart is to put down the salt shaker. Reducing sodium in your diet can also help to control your blood pressure and keep your kidneys in good shape. This, in turn, will help to protect your cardiovascular health.

Another part of the prevention puzzle is talking to your doctors about this risk. Ask if you need to be screened for heart disease. It is important to catch any problems early and start the treatment you need as soon as possible. Also, talk to your doctor about your current lifestyle: What do you like to eat? Are you stressed out? Can you fit some extra exercise into your life? Figuring out what you can do to prevent heart disease and stroke can help you lower your risk in small ways that add up.3

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