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Does Lupus Cause Irregular or Fast Heart Rate?

written by: Dr. Kristie Leong • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 10/31/2010

Is there a connection between an irregular and fast heart rate and lupus? Find out whether this chronic autoimmune disease also affects the heart.

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    Lupus can affect any organ in the body, so it’s not surprising that the heart would be a target for this chronic, sometimes aggressive autoimmune disease. Women with lupus are more prone to heart disease because of the chronic inflammation lupus inflicts upon the body.

    Lupus also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, blood lipid abnormalities and high blood pressure, which are all independent risk factors for heart disease. In addition, some people with lupus have heart palpitations. What is the relationship between an irregular and fast heart rate and lupus?

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    Irregular and Fast Heart Rate and Lupus: What Causes It?

    People with lupus are at an increased risk of heart attack. Some studies show their heart attack risk is up to ten times higher than that of the general population. In addition, we already know that lupus increases the possibility of conditions like hypertension that are risk factors for heart disease, but the chronic inflammation lupus sufferers experience can also damage the heart and blood vessels directly.

    A portion of the people who experience an irregular and fast heart rate with lupus have underlying heart disease that accounts for their symptoms. On the other hand, some people with lupus have irregular or fast heart rates without documented coronary artery disease. Why would this occur?

    Lupus causes chronic inflammation which can affect the conduction system of the heart. The conduction system is the portion of the heart responsible for initiating the heartbeat and conducting the impulse in an orderly fashion through the heart. When the conduction system is inflamed, scarring can result. This scarring can cause the heart to beat in a disorderly fashion leading to an irregular or fast heart rate.

    In most cases, these irregular heart rhythms don’t cause life-threatening problems, but it can be disturbing to a person who has them and some of these heart rhythm abnormalities may require treatment. Any fast or irregular heartbeat should always be evaluated by a doctor.

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    Other Causes of Heart Rhythm Abnormalities with Lupus

    People with lupus may have other heart abnormalities that increase the risk of irregular heart rhythms. Lupus damages the valves of the heart in up to half of all cases. This can alter blood flow and, in severe cases, lead to heart failure. It can also cause the heart muscle or the pericardial sac surrounding the heart to become inflamed. These conditions all increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms.

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    Irregular and Fast Heart Rate and Lupus: The Bottom Line?

    It is not uncommon for people with lupus to have an irregular or fast heart rate due to chronic inflammation involving the conduction system or other portions of the heart. Fortunately, these abnormal heart rhythms can usually be controlled with medications and healthy lifestyle changes.

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    Medscape Family Medicine. "Cardiovascular Disease in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: Lupus-Specific Risk Factors".

    Rheumatology. Volume 45, Issue suppl 4. 2006.

    Lupus International. "Lupus and the Heart".