Rheumatoid Arthritis and Heart Disease: What’s the Connection

If you think that rheumatoid arthritis can only affect your joints, you need to think again.RA or rheumatoid arthritis can affect your heart too.

According to a recent study, the presence of RA can be linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation has found that people with RA are likely to have a 50-70 higher risk for cardiovascular disease than the general population. The foundation has also claimed that half of all adults with heart disease also have some form of arthritis.

There is the Inflammation Connection between RA and Heart Diseases

Inflammation is the major trigger associated with both RA and heart diseases. According to some experts, inflammation in RA can increase inflammation throughout the body. And coronary arteries are one of the most affected body parts which carry blood to the heart.

High levels of inflammatory cells are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. A huge influx of inflammation leads to fat buildup on the artery walls, which in turn constricts blood flow and lead to cardiovascular problems.

Arthritis Medication Can Also Affect Your Heart

Apart from inflammation caused by RA, certain arthritis medications can lead to heart risk. Corticosteroids like prednisone are prescribed to ease arthritis flares, but they can raise cholesterol and make insulin less sensitive—both things can trigger a cardiovascular risk. That’s why the patients are not kept on steroids on a long term basis.

Likewise, taking OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS like ibuprofen for pain can raise the risk of cardiovascular problems like heart failure and blood clots.

RA Can Cause the Following Heart Problems

Atrial Fibrillation is a common heart rhythm problem, happens when the upper chambers of the heartbeat rapidly and irregularly. Left unnoticed, it can cause a stroke or heart failure. Even worse, RA patients are likely to have more risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

Heart Attack is another cardiovascular problem associated with RA. In this condition, arteries, which supply blood to the heart, have plaque buildup, thereby restricting the flow of the blood to the heart. And the risk of heart attack is two times higher in RA patients.

Heart failure can also be triggered by RA. Well, heart failure happens when the heart is not able to pump enough blood to meet the requirements of your body.

Pericarditis occurs when the membrane covering the heart becomes inflamed, causing chest pain and sometimes interrupting the heart’s normal rhythm. Chronic RA inflammation might lead to long-lasting pericarditis.

What You Can Do?

You can keep the risk of developing heart diseases after being diagnosed with RA by taking a healthy diet, doing exercises and above all staying in touch with your doctor. Here’s how…

Living Active Lifestyle:

Exercises keep your joint in motion and minimize stiffness. Moreover, it increases the strength of the muscles around the joint and improves mobility as well.

So if you get into sedentary mode out of fear your arthritis will get worse, you can ask your doctor. They can suggest you the workouts according to your joint condition. You can start as simple as walking. However, avoid doing intense workouts if your body doesn’t allow them.

Take Care of Your Diet:

Inflammatory fats found in corn, sunflower, and vegetable oil can raise inflammation in the body which in turn intensifies the pain. You should also minimize your intake of saturated fats such as meat, butter, and cheese. Moreover, be careful with your sugar intake. Excess sugar consumption can increase the risk of obesity and inflammation.

Salt is a vital mineral in the diet, but when too much is taken it can risk your health. Therefore, prefer foods that are low in sodium and have no salt added.

Instead, eat a diet rich in veggies, low-fat protein (like fish, beans, poultry and low-fat dairy and whole grains.

Getting in Touch with Your Doctor:

Stay in touch with your doctor. Tell him about your issues, what makes your condition worse and what you don’t understand. Make sure to consult your doctor if you experience any new symptoms, want more information, or want to try out any new vitamins or supplements.

Quit Smoking:

While smoking is injurious to health, it aggravates health problems if you have RA. It can decrease the efficiency of your RA medications. Even worse, nicotine found in tobacco products can activate specific white blood cells which in turn release inflammatory molecules.

Maintain a Healthy Weight:

Obesity can increase inflammation. For example, a large waist circumference (40 inches for men and 35 inches for women) is generally associated with inflammation. Luckily, losing weight by 5%-10% can significantly reduce your level of inflammation. Doing workouts and taking a healthy diet can help you reduce your weight. You can also talk to your doctor about the same.

The Bottom Line:

RA or rheumatoid arthritis can lead to heart diseases due to increased inflammation and medication. The more severe your RA is, the greater you are prone to developing heart problems. Luckily, you can minimize this risk by living an active lifestyle, taking the right food and staying in touch with your doctor.

And the sooner you can do this the better because the risk of getting heart disease multiplies within the first year after being diagnosed with RA. What do you think? Let us know by commenting below!

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