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Pain Management Health Center

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Protect Your Heart

Rheumatoid arthritis puts you at a higher risk for heart disease and heart attacks. But making certain lifestyle changes can help prevent heart problems. Learn how to help keep your heart healthy. Note which changes you make in your journal.

RA and Heart

Doctors aren't sure why people with RA have a high risk of heart disease. They think it may have to do with higher levels of inflammation in the body caused by RA -- inflammation is also linked to heart disease. Some of the meds used to treat RA can also increase heart disease risk. But no matter how long you've had RA, you can still make lifestyle changes to decrease your risk.

Add Omega-3s

What you eat can affect inflammation in your body -- some foods fight inflammation and others increase it. Remember, inflammation is bad for both RA and your heart. Inflammation fighters include:

* Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, and herring. 

* Fruits and vegetables

Try to add more of these foods to your diet. Having two 3-ounce servings of fish each week is a good start.

Cholesterol Check

High cholesterol levels increase your risk of heart disease. Reducing high cholesterol foods can help keep cholesterol levels in check. The main culprits are foods high in saturated fat, including some meats, butter, cheese, whole milk, and processed foods. Aim to get less than 7% of your daily calories from saturated fats. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that's 140 calories or about 15 g of saturated fat. Track the food and its saturated fat grams in your Journal. Keep looking for healthy alternatives.

Low-Salt Foods

High blood pressure is another heart disease risk. Help control your blood pressure by cutting back on sodium in your diet. Aim to have less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Alcohol can also raise blood pressure. If you drink, do so in moderation. Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day, and women, no more than 1. Note your sodium and alcohol use in your journal. Bring your Pain Control Report to your next doctor appointment and see if cutting back helps control blood pressure.

Kick the Habit

Smoking not only increases your risk of heart disease, but also can make your RA symptoms worse. Need help quitting? Try these tips:

* Choose a powerful reason to quit, and post it where you can see it every day.

* When you feel ready, set a quit date.

* Try nicotine-replacement therapy. It can make quitting easier.

* Avoid triggers that make you want to smoke, such as alcohol and coffee.

* Save the money you would have spent on cigarettes and buy yourself a reward.

Exercise Program

Getting regular exercise is a great way to help reduce RA symptoms. It's also key for keeping your heart healthy. Get 20 to 30 minutes of low-impact exercise on as many days as you can. Try these ideas to get going:

* Choose an exercise you really enjoy.

* Exercise with a friend.

* Join a class.

* Browse Exercise Goals for more ideas.

Keep track of your daily exercise in your journal and note your progress.

Health Screenings

When was the last time you saw your doctor? If it's been a while, make an appointment. Before your visit, make a Note in your Journal to talk about your risk for heart disease. Discuss your health history and your family history of heart disease. Ask how often you should have heart disease screening tests for high blood pressure, blood sugar, and high cholesterol, and whether you need any other tests such as an electrocardiogram.

Heart Health

Some meds to treat RA may increase the risk of heart disease. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, and steroids such as prednisone and prednisolone.

Other meds -- biologics, methotrexate and similar meds -- may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Talk with your doctor about the meds you take and whether making any changes can help protect your heart.


Statins are a type of drug used to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with high cholesterol. Although statins are generally safe, they can cause troublesome side effects in some people, such as a headache, difficulty sleeping, muscle pain, dizziness, constipation, and diarrhea. Statins sometimes are associated with elevated liver enzymes. Depending on your risk for heart disease, your doctor may recommend a statin. If so, discuss the risks and benefits.  

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