When the Body Turns on Itself

Stroke miscarriages and heart attacks linked to autoimmune disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Some people's immune systems produce antibodies that fight parts of their own bodies. These aren’t always a big deal. But sometimes they can contribute to stroke or miscarriage risk.

A recent study has shed light on the risk these antibodies can pose for people. Researchers found that higher levels can lead to a higher stroke or miscarriage risk.

"Ask your doctor to explain autoimmune risk factors."

The study, led partly by senior author Doruk Erkan MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York Study, involved reviewing 108 research papers from the PubMed database.

All the studies reviewed involved stroke, miscarriage, heart attack or deep vein thrombosis in patients whose levels of antiphospholipid antibodies were also measured.

Antiphospholipid antibodies (aPLs) are the antibodies produced by the immune system that attack phospholipid, a material in cell membranes.

Having many of these aPLs is an autoimmune disorder, which is a medical condition in which the body is somewhat attacking parts of itself.

The researchers analyzed the outcomes in the studies they located as well as the aPL tests used, how aPL levels were defined and how common aPLs were in study participants.

They found that 12 percent of the women who had a miscarriage and 10 percent of patients with deep vein thrombosis tested positive for aPLs. In addition, 14 percent of stroke patients and 13 percent of heart attack patients had aPLs.

When the researchers compared the rates of miscarriage, heart attack, stroke and deep vein thrombosis in these populations to the general population, they could estimate how often aPLs contributed to these conditions.

They found that 60,000 miscarriages, 120,000 strokes, 120,000 heart attacks and 30,000 cases of deep vein thrombosis could be attributed to aPLs.

There were problems with their analysis because of differences between the studies. Some studies were older and used different criteria than today's standards for measuring aPLs. Most studies also did not confirm for certain that aPLs were present by testing the patients twice, three months apart, which is standard practice today.

However, the review of the research still offers helpful information in identifying patients at higher risk for these conditions.

The research was presented November 13 at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals in Washington, D.C. Information was unavailable regarding funding or disclosures.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 15, 2012
Last Updated:
May 10, 2013