Jennifer Mason grew up wanting to be a musician. But while only in her mid-twenties and in the midst of completing her second musical degree, everything suddenly changed when the university student began to experience terrible joint pain and debilitating fatigue. She was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
RA is a disease that causes painful swelling of joints and can damage cartilage, bone, tendons, and ligaments. Until the use of MRI technology, no one knew that irreparable damage occurred in joints even before it showed up on x-rays. Jennifer’s flares came and went, worsening over time until both her hands and feet were severely deformed, ending her ability to play musical instruments.
As if this painful and debilitating condition is not bad enough all by itself, researchers now report that within the first 10 years of being diagnosed with RA, your risk of having a heart attack almost doubles compared to those who don’t have the diagnosis. Researchers are not sure why those with RA have a greater risk of heart attack. They do know that, just as in rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation is linked with heart disease and the risk of heart attack.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, the inflammation with RA may cause higher levels of inflammation throughout the rest of the body. This inflammation can trigger plaque in the coronary arteries to form blood clots. Over time, this plaque can build up, rupture, and block blood flow to the heart. This is called coronary artery disease, which increases the chance of heart attack, stroke, and sudden cardiac death. This sobering reality may be countered, however with the news that a heart-healthy lifestyle and certain medications may help protect the hearts of RA patients, no matter how long they’ve had the diagnosis.
Find out more about rheumatoid arthritis.
NEWS UPDATE: August 15, 2011 - Arthritis Sufferers’ Increased Risk of Heart Disease Due to Disease-Related Inflammation – A new five-year Swedish study* published in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy showed that the risk of cardiovascular disease for people with RA is due to disease-related inflammation as well as the risk factors which affect the general population. Treatment of arthritis with disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) helped to reduce a patient’s risk of heart disease.
Dr Solveig Wållberg-Jonsson from University Hospital, Umeå, in Sweden said:
“Inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis increases patients’ risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular events. However, it is possible to reduce this risk in a two-pronged attack by treating both the inflammation and traditional risk factors for heart disease.”
* Lena Innala, Bozena Möller, Lotta Ljung, Staffan Magnusson, Torgny Smedby, Anna Södergren, Marie-Louise Öhman, Solbritt Rantapää-Dahlqvist and Solveig Wållberg-Jonsson. Cardiovascular events in early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are a result of inflammatory burden and traditional risk factors: a five year prospective study. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 2011