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Widening Death Gap Haunts RA Patients

Over 50 Years, Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients See No Gain in Life Expectancy

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Heart Disease continued...

Why do rheumatoid arthritis patients die sooner than others do? Rheumatoid arthritis doesn't just affect the joints. Gabriel, a rheumatologist, says people with the disease have system-wide immune dysfunction, with very high levels of inflammation.

While the study does not prove this is so, Gabriel speculates that heart disease in people with rheumatoid arthritis is different from heart disease in other people.

"I think cardiovascular disease is an important part of what is going on here," she says. "And it is likely that this may be a bit different from the cardiovascular disease the rest of us develop. It may be that interventions to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease may be relatively less effective for people with rheumatoid arthritis, and that is why they are not experiencing the survival gains the rest of us have."

Gabriel points out that patients in the current study were treated through January 2007. If new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis are helping patients live longer, this effect has not yet become apparent. She thinks it's a bad idea to wait to see whether this happens.

"I would caution my colleagues not to assume things will get better, but to try to see what is causing these differences in survival," Gabriel says. "There are a lot of patients that could be helped by studies specifically designed to improve survival in people with rheumatoid arthritis. I'm not comfortable with just waiting another five years to see what happens."

Gabriel and colleagues report their findings in the November 2007 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism.

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