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Heart & Blood Symptoms

Facial rash is a common symptom of lupus

Chest Pain

People with lupus may experience chest pain. Chest pain may be caused by inflammation of the lining of the lungs (pleuritis), inflammation in the heart muscle (myocarditis) or the tissue around the heart (pericarditis). Chest pain can worsen, or sharpen, while taking a deep breath, laughing, sneezing, or coughing. Other causes of chest pain may be from issues in the lungs, esophagus, muscles, ribs, or nerves. Other medical problems can also cause chest pain such as asthma, acid reflux (GERD), pneumonia, peptic ulcers, or muscle strain.

Anxiety, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also cause chest pain, especially if they are accompanied by rapid heart rate.

Seeing a Doctor for Chest Pain

You should see a doctor if your chest pain is persistent, increasingly frequent, or is only alleviated with rest. Your physician will first determine whether your chest pain is musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, or from the lungs. They will examine your medical history, consider potential risk factors, and perform a physical examination. You may be referred to a cardiologist or other specialist for further testing.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience chest pain with:

  • Nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, or dizziness
  • Sudden chest pain with shortness of breath lasting more than five minutes

Rapid Heart Rate and High Blood Pressure

Rapid heart rate, also called tachycardia, means your heart is beating more than 100 times per minute. You might experience other symptoms with a rapid heart rate:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • A feeling that your heart is beating quickly or irregularly (palpitations)

High blood pressure means blood is flowing through your blood vessels with too much force. High blood pressure can damage your arteries, heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. If your high blood pressure remains untreated, it can increase the risk of:

  • Irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Vision changes or blindness

It is normal for your heart rate to be higher when you exercise. It is not usual for you to have high blood pressure or heart rate when resting, and may be due to stress, trauma, illness, or other lifestyle factors like diet.

If you experience new high blood pressure, it is also important to see a doctor, as this may be a sign that your kidneys are not functioning as they should. Lupus can cause inflammation in the kidneys, which causes a buildup of fluid and can lead to high blood pressure.

Seeing a Doctor for Rapid Heart Rate or High Blood Pressure

You should call 911 or seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • A rapid heart rate and feel faint
  • Severe chest pain that lasts more than several minutes
  • Difficulty breathing

Overtime, rapid heart rate and high blood pressure can cause long-term health problems. Kidney evaluations will usually involve a blood pressure test, blood test, and urine test. Your doctor may also ask you questions or run tests to see if your symptoms are due to other factors like anemia, dehydration, smoking, medication side effects, hyperthyroidism, or drinking alcohol or caffeine. To treat the underlying causes of rapid heart rate and high blood pressure, your options might include:

  • Medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Dietary changes

Strokes and Blood Clots

Strokes and blood clots can be a rare, but very serious, symptom associated with severe lupus. The risk of strokes and blood clots is higher when disease inflammation levels are very high or if antiphospholipid (aPL) antibodies are present. Other factors that raise risk of stroke include elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, use of estrogen containing birth control or supplemental hormones, and cigarette smoking.

Signs of a stroke include sudden and severe headache, sudden numbness or weakness of one side of the face or body, difficulty speaking or swallowing. If a blood clot affects the lungs, it can cause shortness of breath, chest pain and a high heart rate. A blood clot in the leg or arm can cause swelling, redness and pain of the limb. Any of these symptoms are reasons to call 911 and present to an emergency room immediately.

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