Immune System Disorder Raises Heart Attack Risk

Sjogrens Syndrome increases likelihood of heart attack and to a lesser degree stroke

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Most common in women, Sjögren’s is an autoimmune disease in which white blood cells attack moisture-producing glands. Related inflammation may make patients more prone to heart risks.

Characterized by dry eyes and dry mouth, Sjögren’s Syndrome (SjS) affects upwards of four million people—nine out of ten of whom are women.

A new study has found that those with the disease face a significantly higher risk of heart attack and more prone to stroke as well.

"Monitor for heart disease symptoms if you have Sjögren’s Syndrome."

Antonio Aviña-Zubieta, MD, a research scientist at the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada and an assistant professor of the Department of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology at University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, led the investigation reviewing records on patients diagnosed with SjS between 1990 and 2010.

From their analysis of 1,176 new cases of SjS, scientists discovered 28 who had a first-time heart attack. In comparison, 138 had a heart attack out of the 11,879 non-SjS matched controls. The heart attack incident rate was 7.7 per 1,000 person-years in the SjS group compared to 3.5 per 1,000 person-years with the controls.

In evaluating incidence of stroke, researchers reviewed health information on 1,195 patients with new SjS and found 19 who had a first-time episode. Of the 11,983 non-SjS individuals in the control group, 137 had a stroke. The stroke incident rate was 5.1 per 1,000 person-years with SjS patients vs. 3.4 per 1,000 person-years with the controls.

Overall, someone with SjS has more than double the risk for a heart attack than someone without SjS. The risk of having a stroke for SjS patients is 1.5 times greater than for those without the disease.

The authors noted that risk for developing a heart attack was highest during the first year following diagnosis (3.6 times greater than control group). For some patients, this risk level persisted for five years following diagnosis. Investigators did not observe this trend among stroke patients.

Inflammation of the blood vessels is common for heart disease and stroke patients, according to the American Heart Association. "It is the acute inflammatory state in Sjögren's syndrome, particularly at the onset of the disease, which is likely to be the main driver for the increased risk of heart attacks and stroke,” said Dr. Aviña-Zubieta in a press release.

With this inflammatory disease, the body’s immune system attacks fluid-secreting glands, such as those that produce tear and saliva. The inflammation can inhibit tears causing burning in the eyes and reduce saliva to create dry mouth. Nasal passages, throat, skin and vagina may also become excessively dry.

SjS can occur in those without any rheumatological disease or in those who have another rheumatological disease, especially those who have systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The study was presented June 13 at the European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress (EULAR 2014). The research was funded by an operating grant by the Canadian Arthritis Network/The Arthritis Society and the BC Lupus Society.

Review Date: 
June 14, 2014
Last Updated:
June 16, 2014