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Rheumatoid Arthritis & Heart Disease

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Results of a recent study presented at the American College of Rheumatology annual meeting shed new light on the connection between rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. The study by Mayo Clinic revealed that if left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis could put patients in greater jeopardy of heart problems: early menopause, more severe rheumatoid arthritis and immunity to a common virus, cytomegalovirus, among others.

Mayo researchers discovered that patients whose rheumatoid arthritis is more severe are likelier to have heart problems. “That becomes true soon after rheumatoid arthritis strikes, making early treatment of rheumatoid arthritis important”, says Eric Matteson, M.D., chair of rheumatology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

“One thing that we learned in particular in this study is that the high disease burden on the joints in the first year of disease already is a very strong predictor of cardiovascular disease subsequently, and that seems to be mitigated as time goes on if the disease burden can be reduced too,” Dr. Matteson says.

In other research, a Mayo team looked at a common virus called cytomegalovirus, a bug many people get and do not even know they have. They found correlations between rheumatoid arthritis patients’ immune response to the virus and the development of myocardial disease.

If it turns out that there is this relationship, then it may be that one way to spot patients who are at higher risk for heart disease would be an immune profile or biomarkers related to the cytomegalovirus and its associated immune activation signaling,” says Dr. Matteson.

Another study found that women with rheumatoid arthritis and early menopause – before age 45 – also seem to be at higher risk of heart disease. About two-thirds of patients with rheumatoid arthritis are women, and researchers have long studied possible hormonal influences on development of the disease.

“This study shows the complex relationship between rheumatoid arthritis, hormones and heart disease,” says Dr. Matteson. “We also found patients who have had multiple children, especially seven or more, are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease compared with women who have menopause at a normal age or have fewer children.”

Heart disease risk finder

In a recent development, an international team has created a heart disease risk calculator tailored especially for rheumatoid arthritis patients. Details of the new tool known as the Transatlantic Cardiovascular Risk Calculator for Rheumatoid Arthritis, or ATACC-RA, were presented at the European League Against Rheumatism annual meeting June 11-14, 2014 in Paris. The research team was from institutions around the United States, Canada, Mexico, South Africa and Europe, while Mayo is gathering and analyzing the group’s data.

The ATACC-RA calculator is designed to accurately predict rheumatoid arthritis patients’ chances of developing heart disease within 10 years. The group plans further work to test and refine the calculator so it can be personalized for patients, says Dr. Sherine Gabriel, M.D., a rheumatologist and epidemiologist, who is working with Mayo biostatistician Cynthia Crowson on the project. “I think it’s important for patients with rheumatoid arthritis to understand that their disease alone carries added risk of heart disease and discuss that with their rheumatologist…” Dr. Gabriel says.

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This web site is run by an Arthritis Specialist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On this site you will find news about the latest in arthritis, information about research results in the field, tips and information and diet and exercise, and much more.

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