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Heart Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis almost doubles the risk of having a heart attack within the first 10 years of getting an RA diagnosis, according to the American College of Rheumatology. The good news is that a heart-healthy lifestyle and certain medications may help protect the heart.

Inflammation Link

Inflammation is a major part of rheumatoid arthritis. It's also linked to heart disease and the risk of having a heart attack.

Some researchers think the inflammation in RA may cause higher levels of inflammation in the body generally, including in the coronary arteries, which supply the heart with blood.

Some RA treatments may also make heart disease more likely.  They include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Prednisone and other steroid drugs

Reducing Your Risk

You can take steps to help make a heart attack less likely:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat protein (such as poultry, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds, and low-fat dairy), and whole grains.
  • Avoid foods high in sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol.
  • Get plenty of physical activity and exercise.
  • Get regular checkups.
  • Get regular tests for high blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and high cholesterol; Talk to your doctor about your health history and your family history of heart disease.
  • Stay at a healthy weight; obesity makes heart disease more likely.

 

Can RA Medications Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack?

Medications such as methotrexate, other DMARDs, and biologics -- all used to control RA inflammation -- may help reduce the risk of heart disease, according to findings published in the journal Arthritis Research and Therapy. Your doctor can help you see if your medications and doses are appropriate for your heart's health.

If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may also prescribe statins.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on March 13, 2013
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