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Those with Rheumatoid Arthritis Have a Higher Risk of Heart Disease

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a progressive, long-term, and disabling autoimmune condition, this means that the immune system attacks healthy body tissue. Normally, the immune system produces antibodies to protect us against viruses and bacteria and it fights off infection.

RA causes chronic inflammation in the joints but, in some people, it also produces widespread inflammation in several parts of the body including the lungs, blood vessels, heart, skin, and the eyes.

The ligaments and tendons which hold the joints together may weaken and stretch. Eventually the joint loses its configuration and its shape and the damage can be severe.

Unfortunately, at this time, there is no known cause for the disease and it is incurable.

How RA affects the body

According to The Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis patients are 50% to 70% more likely to suffer from heart disease than the general public.It's not exactly known why RA individuals show an increased risk of heart disease because these patients generally do not have higher rates of the common risk factors for heart disease including high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure to explain the strong connection to heart disease.

Because of this, it is difficult to predict which rheumatoid arthritis patients may be prone to suffer from heart disease.

Atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of the arteries, progresses faster in patients suffering from RA. Inflammatory cells find their way into the blood vessel wall and make cytokines which are immune system proteins that cause inflammation.

Inflammation will reshape blood vessel walls and make the deposited plaque more prone to rupture. When a rupture occurs it sets off a series of reactions that will trigger a heart attack.

RA sufferers often have low-density lipoproteins or LDL - the bad cholesterol - and have a higher risk of heart disease. It is likely that this is caused by systemic inflammation which actually lowers the levels of LDL in the blood and may give someone suffering from RA a false sense of security that their bad cholesterol levels are low. RA sufferers Have more peripheral vascular disease than individuals without the condition.

Symptoms of RA

RA produces distinct and hard to ignore symptoms such as:

  • Muscle weakness

  • Fever

  • Joint deformity

  • Unsteadiness when walking

  • A feeling of being unwell

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Swollen tender painful joints

  • Aching

  • Weight loss

  • Loss of appetite

  • Skin Nodules

  • Inflamed blood vessels

  • Extreme sensitivity, dryness all pain in the eyes

The CDC ( Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has stated that these symptoms of RA usually affect the same joints on both sides of the body. These symptoms will come and go and when an RA individual is in remission the symptoms disappear but during a flare, they can be quite severe.

There are other side effects of RA that may be present for years but they do not reveal themselves until a crisis situation is reached.

Diminishing the risk of heart disease

Fortunately, heart disease is not an unavoidable result of having RA. The relationship between RA disease and heart disease shows that the risk becomes stronger the more active the RA condition. So keeping the activity of RA well-controlled reduces cardiovascular risk in RA.

Methotrexate. This medication reduces RA inflammation and produces a strong cardioprotective result for RA patients. It has been so effective, it is being studied to test its ability to prevent cardiovascular disease progression in patients without RA.

Using medication is one of the best ways to manage RA. Not all medications are helpful in preventing heart problems. If inflammation is left unchecked the risk of heart disease, stroke and heart attacks increases.

Exercise. Benefits can be achieved through increasing the blood flow and synovial fluids to the joints by doing exercises such as swimming, walking and using a stationary bike. Regular exercise will help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and will lower the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.

Heart-healthy diet. Food such as fish oils, essential omega fatty acids, and seafood will help heart health as well as inflammation in RA. Care must be taken when using fish oil supplements because they may increase the risk of bleeding in RA patients who take medication to reduce blood clotting. Patients with RA should consult with a doctor before taking fish oil supplements or greatly increasing the intake of fish.

Vitamins and supplements. Those with RA should consult with their doctor for suggestions on the use of supplements or vitamins that may help with any new RA symptoms.

Herbs and supplements have been studied for their ability to decrease inflammation in those with rheumatoid arthritis. These include ginger, green tea, and turmeric. Research at this point is only preliminary.

Stop smoking. It has been found that even light smoking is connected to an increased risk of developing RA. However, reducing or quitting smoking actually decreases the risk of developing RA over time. In addition, smoking reduces the effectiveness of RA medications or other treatments. If surgery is required smoking will increase the chance of complications. It may affect anesthesia, heart rate, drug metabolism, blood pressure, and breathing.

Patients with RA may not realize that smoking makes their condition worse, so they may not be too concerned about quitting.

Monitor heart health. People with RA should closely monitor their heart health and seek their doctor’s advice for suggestions.

  • Risk factors for RA

  • Individuals over 60

  • Female

  • Specific genetic traits

  • Have never given birth

  • Have obesity

  • Smoke tobacco

Work with a rheumatologist to get RA under control and to achieve the lowest possible amount of systemic inflammation. Individuals with RA who are able to get their disease well-controlled are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

The content on this page is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Patients should not use the information presented on this page for diagnosing a health-related issue or disease. Before taking any medication or supplements, patients should always consult a physician or qualified healthcare professional for medical advice or information about whether a drug is safe, appropriate or effective.