Lupus and Stroke


Lupus is a complex medical condition that can affect both men and women throughout adulthood. It is a chronic fluctuating disease, which means that it lasts for many years and may flare up or quiet down over time. Lupus is an autoimmune condition triggered when the body's immune system overacts against some of its own tissue. People with lupus can experience a variety of symptoms affecting different organs of the body, including the joints, the muscles, the digestive organs, the heart, the nerves and the brain.

Lupus may cause neurological symptoms that mimic stroke and some people with lupus may have an increased risk of stroke. Overall, lupus is manageable, and if you are living with lupus, you have probably already learned a great deal about taking care of your health.

Lupus and Stroke Risk

A number of different scientific research studies over the years have repeatedly shown that there is an increased incidence of stroke among people who are living with lupus. More than half of people living with lupus will suffer from a stroke at some time and stroke has been noted to be the cause of death in as many as 20-30% of people with lupus. So, it is important for you to know how to recognize a stroke or TIA if you are living with lupus. Because people don’t always retain the ability to communicate during a stroke or TIA, you should be able to recognize a stroke if you spend a lot of time with someone who has lupus.

Why is There a Link Between Lupus and Stroke?

Lupus is associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis, which is disease of the inner lining of blood vessels, a key precursor of stroke. Inflammation, a fundamental feature of lupus, plays a long-term role in setting the stage for stroke. Patients with lupus also experience a higher than usual tendency of heart disease, which is one of the leading causes of stroke.

And the medication used to treat lupus, such as steroids, can produce some stroke risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Predictors of Stroke in People who have Lupus

Careful research has uncovered some helpful clues about which patients with lupus have a higher risk of stroke and when. People living with lupus who also have high blood pressure, elevated lipid levels, and heart disease or neurological disease (not necessarily stroke) are more likely to go on to experience a stroke than people with lupus who do not have these problems.

Another type of blood test is used for analysis of certain proteins called autoantibodies, which may be elevated in patients with lupus. A measurement of high levels of autoantibodies in the blood is another predictor of increased stroke risk in people who have lupus.

Knowing these predictors of stroke, your health care team can work with you to help manage these problems to reduce your risk of stroke if you have lupus.

Surgery, Lupus, and Stroke

Surgery is another stroke risk for lupus patients, especially for those who have had a recent hospitalization for treatment of lupus. Sometimes, surgery is the best and most definitive way to take care of serious health problems.

But, because a recent lupus hospitalization can increase the risk of stroke after surgery, it is important to schedule non-emergency surgery, elective surgery or cosmetic surgery during a time when the lupus is less active- even if you need to reschedule your procedure if you experience a lupus flare up.

Living with lupus is not easy. Stroke is one of the complications that people with lupus may encounter. Understanding your stroke risk, and working with your doctors to reduce your risk, is an important part of taking care of your health.

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