Autoimmune Diseases and the Heart: What You Need To Know

autoimmune diseases and the heart

An autoimmune disease diagnosis can trigger lots of questions and can be tricky to understand — especially when other health concerns are involved, such as heart conditions. Autoimmune disease occurs when your body’s immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake. This error leads to inflammation, cell injury or a functional disturbance with clinical manifestations. Here are some things you’ll need to know about autoimmune diseases:

What increases my risk for autoimmune disease?

  • A family history of an autoimmune disease
  • Women are more susceptible
  • Pregnancy
  • Exposure to sunlight or certain chemicals
  • Certain medicines, such as antibiotics and cholesterol medicines
  • Viral or bacterial infections

Signs and symptoms of autoimmune disease: 

  • Red, warm, painful, swollen area or joints
  • Joint pain, stiffness or reduced range of motion
  • Tiredness, weakness or muscle pain
  • Fever
  • Weight gain or loss, or no appetite
  • Diarrhea, stomach cramps or bloating
  • Hair loss
  • Rash or changes in skin color
  • Red, inflamed eyes

Autoimmune disorders that affect the heart: 

  • Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup)
  • Rheumatic heart disease: recurring infections cause the immune system to react against tissues in the body, specifically flaming and scarring the heart valves
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus: can cause inflammation in all parts of the heart (pericarditis, myocarditis, endocarditis and atherosclerosis)
  • Type 1 diabetes: antibodies attack beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin (a cardiovascular event is the No. 1 killer of diabetics)
  • Psoriasis: chronic autoimmune skin disease (not just a skin problem), it can lead to plaque buildup and coronary artery disease
  • Grave’s disease: autoimmune disorder where the thyroid becomes overactive (hyperthyroidism); the heart can overwork itself and weaken over time, and this can also lead to a rapid or irregular heartbeat

How do you diagnose autoimmune disease?

  • A blood test can measure the amount of inflammation in your body, find specific antibodies and may even show signs of infection
  • An X-ray, CT or MRI can indicate joint or organ damage
  • A biopsy is a procedure used to take a sample of joint tissue or fluids; the sample may be tested for infection, inflammation or other causes of your symptoms

Treating autoimmune disease:

The autoimmune protocol diet (AIP) is a diet that aims to reduce inflammation, pain and other symptoms caused by autoimmune diseases. It focuses on eliminating inflammatory foods and replacing them with health-promoting, nutrient-dense foods that help heal the gut and, ultimately, reduce inflammation and symptoms of autoimmune disease.

Living with autoimmune disease:

An autoimmune disorder diagnosis is not the end. It is the beginning of understanding why you are experiencing the symptoms you have, and finding the right way to treat and resolve those symptoms.

Arkansas Heart Hospital is dedicated to not only treating heart conditions, but also educating the public on the best ways to live a heart-healthy life. Read through our heart health tips and and expert insights provided by our doctors.