Your Joints Ache, Your Heart Breaks

Rheumatoid arthritis patients have higher risk of death from heart disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Like many autoimmune diseases (when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue), rheumatoid arthritis is associated with other health problems and can harm many parts of the body, including the heart.

People with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to die from heart disease than those without rheumatoid arthritis. However, rheumatoid arthritis patients may be able to lower their risk of heart disease by taking certain arthritis-fighting drugs.

"Take care of your heart if you have rheumatoid arthritis."

Dr. Solveig Wållberg-Jonsson, from University Hospital in Umeå, Sweden, and colleagues found that the risk of heart disease in rheumatoid arthritis patients is due to a combination of disease-related inflammation and the traditional risk factors for heart disease (smoking, high blood pressure, and weight).

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that leads to inflammation of the joints and nearby tissues. The inflammation can also affect blood vessels (the parts of the body that carry blood), which can lead to all sorts of other health complications, including heart problems.

As Dr. Wållberg-Jonsson says, the inflammation related to rheumatoid arthritis raises the risk of heart disease and other heart problems. Yet, she adds, patients' risk can be lowered by treating both the inflammation and the usual risk factors for heart disease.

The researchers came to these conclusions by studying more than 400 rheumatoid arthritis patients. They followed the patients for five years, starting at the point of diagnosis. They kept track of patients' treatment types as well as the risk factors for heart disease (weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking).

At the end of five years, 23 patients had died. Also by the end of the study, 97 percent of the study's participants had been treated with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). The DMARDs reduced the chemical markers of inflammation while also lowering the physical appearance of patients' arthritis.

Dr. Wållberg-Jonsson and colleagues also found that the intensity of a patient's arthritis was a strong predictor of that patient's risk for a new heart-related event like heart disease, stroke, or deep venous thrombosis - when a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside the body. Heart-related events could also be predicted by the presence of diabetes, high blood pressure, and the level of triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood).

The study is published in Arthritis Research & Therapy.

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Review Date: 
August 15, 2011
Last Updated:
July 22, 2014