Study links rheumatoid arthritis to elevated risk of heart disease

Statistics from the American College of Rheumatology show that well over one million people here in the U.S., the majority of them women, suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.

For those unfamiliar with this systemic inflammatory disease, it affects the lining of the small joints in the hands and feet, resulting in a painful swelling that, according to the Mayo Clinic, can eventually result in joint deformity and even bone erosion.   

Interestingly, a recently released study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine found that those people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis or other conditions attributable to a malfunctioning immune system like psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are at an elevated risk of suffering a heart attack, cardiac arrest or stroke.

As part of the study, the researchers monitored the primary care medical records of patients in the United Kingdom from 1994 to 2010. Specifically, they compared the health records of 42,000 people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, 138,000-plus people diagnosed with psoriasis and 8,700 people diagnosed with both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis with a control group comprised of 81,000 patients with none of these inflammatory diseases.

They made some of the following discoveries after analyzing the 16-year data set:

  • Patients diagnosed with any of the three inflammatory diseases were more likely to suffer a heart attack, cardiac arrest or stroke, or die as a result of one of these three.
  • Over half of the patients with rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis were prescribed what are known as a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD).
  • Patients with rheumatoid arthritis prescribed a DMARD had the greatest risk of a heart attack, while those patients with rheumatoid arthritis who weren't prescribed a DMARD were still over 30 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack.

Interestingly, while the researchers weren't necessarily surprised by their findings, they were still uncertain as to whether these elevated risks of heart disease can be attributed to the DMARD treatment or the inflammatory diseases themselves.

At least one scientific expert, unaffiliated with the study, indicated that it serves to underscore just how important it is for those diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis or psoriasis to pay attention to their overall health.

If you have been diagnosed with a serious condition like rheumatoid arthritis or suffered a stroke or heart attack, it's important to know that you may be able to secure Social Security disability benefits. To learn more, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible

Source: Reuters, "Psoriasis or rheumatoid arthritis linked to heart risk," Kathryn Doyle, Nov. 6, 2014