Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis aren’t just hard on your joints. Widespread inflammation weakens your heart muscle and contributes to hardening of the arteries. In fact, heart disease is one of the top killers of people with lupus. “Lupus is well known for affecting organs like the kidneys and lungs, but any organ is vulnerable,” says Noel Rose, MD, PhD, chair of the scientific advisory board for the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA).
Protect yourself: There are several steps you can take to lower your heart disease risk, including maintaining a healthy weight, eating a sensible diet, and exercising regularly. “Anyone with an autoimmune disease should definitely keep an eye on their blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol, as these also damage the heart,” says Rose.