Research has revealed that rheumatoid arthritis patients have a much higher risk of early death as a result of cardiovascular disease. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have concluded from various studies that people with RA have a greater risk of heart disease than the rest of the population. Further, they are more prone to silent unrecognized heart attacks and more sudden cardiac deaths. (Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. SCA usually causes death if it’s not treated within minutes – National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.) Moreover, RA patients are much less likely to have chest pain complaints.
Increased Risk Even Before Diagnosis
The Mayo Clinic research also recognized the increased heart disease risk even before patients receive an RA diagnosis. Up to two years prior to diagnosis, RA patients were: (1) three times more likely to have been hospitalized after an acute heart attack: (2) less likely to have a history of chest pains; and (3) five times more likely to have unrecognized heart attacks and sudden cardiac death. Once diagnosed, patients were twice as likely to have unrecognized heart attacks and sudden cardiac death.
Things to Be Aware Of
Mayo Clinic researchers have determined three things that RA patients need to be aware of. First, the risk of heart attack already exists by the time an RA diagnosis is made. Next, heart disease can be silent in people with RA, making regular cardiac checks necessary in addition to lowering your other risks such as blood pressure, cholesterol and smoking. Last, in RA patients, sometimes the first evidence of a heart disease is sudden cardiac death.
Researchers believe RA patients have a higher risk for heart disease because of RA itself but also because of additional risk factors. The reason that RA plays a role is because systematic inflammation associated with RA promotes cardiovascular disease.
Researchers emphasize that RA patients must be aware that they have a higher risk for heart disease. Therefore, they must be vigilant about cardiac symptoms should they experience those and seek immediate medical attention. Further, RA patients should be aware of the role that pain medications used for joint pain play in the picture. Those who take painkillers may not recognize or feel chest pain in the way that those who do not take pain medication would. Therefore, cardiac checks are necessary in addition to diet and lifestyle changes.
Source: Mayo Clinic (2005, February 4). Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients At Higher Risk For Unrecognized Heart Disease And Cardiac Sudden Death.