OBJECTIVES: Atherosclerosis has emerged as an important late complication of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Asian Indians, as an ethnic group, are known to be metabolically predisposed to development of early atherosclerosis. No data on this aspect of SLE are available from Asia. This study was undertaken to find the frequency of atherosclerosis in Indian lupus patients and the factors affecting such an occurrence. METHODS: Carotid artery intimo-medial thickness (IMT) and plaque were used as markers of atherosclerosis. High-resolution B-mode ultrasonography was used to compare carotid IMT and plaque in 50 patients with SLE and 50 age- and sex-matched healthy controls. RESULTS: Patients with lupus (age 31.6+/-10.05, median 30.5 years; disease duration 52.3+/-36.7, median 46 months) exhibited a significantly greater IMT than controls (0.417+/-0.07 vs. 0.362+/-00.07 mm; p = 0.003). Carotid plaques were seen in seven (14%) cases. None of the control population had plaques (p = 0.006). On bivariate analysis, the IMT was significantly affected by age, systolic blood pressure (SBP), disease duration and menopausal status. On multivariate analysis, the only factor significantly affecting IMT was SBP. The Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics/American College of Rheumatology (SLICC/ACR) score was the sole factor found to significantly affect the occurrence of plaque. CONCLUSIONS: Asian Indian lupus patients in our study, despite being relatively young and with shorter disease duration, exhibited premature atherosclerosis in the form of significantly thicker intimo-media and plaque. The factors found to affect accelerated atherosclerosis in our cohort were age, SBP, disease duration, postmenopausal status and the SLICC/ACR score.
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