Researchers believe that the new findings suggest early prevention and screening, better treatments, and a special attention given to heart disease in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) finally paid off.
RA has often been linked with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. And, doctors long knew that inflammation triggered by RA was to blame. Inflammation damages blood vessels and promotes the formation of plaque on arteries.
Plaque which is a thick mix of fats, cholesterol, calcium and other compounds, can clog arteries and severely hinder blood flow. As a result, the increased pressure can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
But inflammation in RA does not only affect people’s arteries, it also wreaks havoc on their hearts’ muscles, leading to heart failure. Unfortunately, symptoms of the life-threatening condition are often mistaken for signs of RA: fatigue, respiratory problems, and swelling in the lower legs.
RA can affect the membrane enveloping the heart also known as the pericardium. If the pericardium is swollen or inflamed, it can trigger sharp and recurrent chest pain.
RA patients are also more likely to develop atrial fibrillation, or irregular heart beat which can result in stroke, heart failure and even death. All in all, keeping an eye on inflammation in RA patients is crucial, if we plan to protect their hearts.
Past research suggested that RA patients are twice as likely to develop cardiac problems as other people. Heart troubles usually emerge within a year of diagnosis. If inflammation is left unchecked it can boost heart attack risk by 60 percent and other heart troubles and heart disease mortality by 50 percent in one to four years since diagnosis.
Fortunately, efforts to curb heart disease incidence among RA patients seem to pay off, the recent study suggests. Dr. Elena Myasoedova, senior researcher involved in the study and RA expert from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, said that she and her team sifted through data on RA patients who were monitored for 10 years.
Scientists were especially interested in the death rates triggered by cardiovascular disease. There were three groups: one of the groups consisted in RA patients diagnosed in the 1980s and 1990s, other group consisted in RA patients diagnosed between 200 and 2007, and a third group was the control group of people without RA , but who died from heart disease.
Researchers found that heart disease deaths dropped from 7.9 percent in the 1980s and 1990s to 2.8 percent in the early 2000s.
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