According to a 2013 Mayo Clinic study published by the American Heart Association, people with rheumatoid arthritis are two to three times more likely to develop heart disease or heart failure, especially if they test positive for rheumatoid factor, or RF. Find out more about the connection between these two diseases.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease that causes swelling, tenderness and stiffness in the small joints in the hands and feet. This inflammatory disorder can go beyond the joints, and that is part of the connection to heart disease.
The inflammation of RA may cause changes within the walls of your arteries that make the arteries narrow, lowering blood flow and raising blood pressure. This inflammation may also trigger plaque formation also known as atherosclerosis. Plaque formation also contributes to the development of such conditions as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes — known risk factors for developing heart disease. RA can affect the heart muscle, too, making it stiff and reducing its ability to effectively pump blood. That makes the heart more prone to heart failure.
Drugs such as steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can raise blood pressure, contribute to weight gain, and raise cholesterol levels if used over long periods of time. All of these side effects can increase the likelihood of heart problems.
Because people with rheumatoid arthritis are at high risk for heart problems, routine monitoring of blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and inflammatory markers by a healthcare provider is important. Maintaining a heart healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, eating a heart healthy/ low sugar diet, getting enough sleep, achieving a healthy weight, and reducing stress are important to manage both RA and heart disease.