Prevalence and risk factors of carotid plaque in women with systemic lupus erythematosus




To determine the prevalence of carotid atherosclerosis and associated risk factors in women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).


Carotid plaque and intima-media wall thickness (IMT) were measured by B-mode ultrasound in women with SLE. Risk factors associated with carotid plaque and IMT were determined at the time of the ultrasound scan and included traditional cardiovascular risk factors, SLE-specific variables, and inflammation markers.


The 175 women with SLE were predominantly white (87%), with a mean age of 44.9 years (SD 11.5). Twenty-six women (15%) had a previous arterial event (10 coronary [myocardial infarction or angina], 11 cerebrovascular [stroke or transient ischemic attack], and 5 both). The mean ± SD IMT was 0.71 ± 0.14 mm, and 70 women (40%) had focal plaque. Variables significantly associated with focal plaque (P < 0.05) included age, duration of lupus, systolic, diastolic, and pulse pressure, body mass index, menopausal status, levels of total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, fibrinogen and C-reactive protein levels, SLE-related disease damage according to the Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics (SLICC) damage index (modified to exclude cardiovascular parameters), and disease activity as determined by the Systemic Lupus Activity Measure. Women with longer duration of prednisone use and a higher cumulative dose of prednisone as well as those with prior coronary events were more likely to have plaque. In logistic regression models, independent determinants of plaque (P < 0.05) were older age, higher systolic blood pressure, higher levels of LDL cholesterol, prolonged treatment with prednisone, and a previous coronary event. Older age, a previous coronary event, and elevated systolic blood pressure were independently associated with increased severity of plaque (P < 0.01). Older age, elevated pulse pressure, a previous coronary event, and a higher SLICC disease damage score were independently related to increased IMT (P < 0.05).


B-mode ultrasound provides a useful noninvasive technique to assess atherosclerosis in women with SLE who are at high risk for cardiovascular disease. Potentially modifiable risk factors were found to be associated with the vascular disease detected using this method.