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Arthritis Health Center

New Knees, Hips May Also Help the Heart

Joint replacement might boost physical activity in arthritis patients, study author says
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The final analysis contained 162 matched pairs. People who had surgery lowered their odds of a serious heart event or death by 37 percent, the results indicated.

Ravi said the most likely reason for the decline in risk was the ability to be more physically active. He said there are other theories, such as that arthritis may increase inflammation, which increases heart attack risk, and that by replacing the joint, inflammation may be reduced.

Another possibility is that pain medications may increase the risk of heart problems, or that pain and the stress effects of pain may increase the risk of heart problems. Ravi said it may be that all of the above factors play some role, but the researchers suspect that increased mobility is likely the one that has the most impact on heart risk.

Another expert called the study "very encouraging."

"Orthopedic surgeons are often used to taking care of healthier populations, and they may be reticent to do surgery on someone with heart disease," said cardiologist Dr. John Erwin III, an associate professor and vice chair of the department of internal medicine at Baylor Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, Texas.

"While obviously there are risks to surgery, even previous heart patients can go on to do well after joint replacement surgery, and their quality of life improves," Erwin said.

Erwin agreed that the ability to move more likely made the biggest difference in heart risk. In addition to the physical benefits, he said getting their independence back also makes a big difference in patients' depression symptoms, which can also affect heart risk.

There are risks to joint replacement surgery. These include damage to the tissues and nerves, infections, the need for reoperation, blood clots and even death, according to study author Ravi. "The benefits of surgery need to be weighed carefully against the risk. If you're fairly unhealthy, surgery could be a problem," he said.

And, people need to know that the recovery time is long. "Most studies show that people start feeling a lot of benefit by six months, though that's variable. People can usually return to activities in six months to a year," Ravi said.

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