The new study, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine, is not the first to link RA and heart disease, but it does show that an increased risk of heart attack begins one year after RA diagnosis.
RA is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system misfires against its own joints and connective tissues, causing inflammation, pain, and problems with dexterity and mobility. This inflammation may also play a role in risk for heart disease.
Marie Holmqvist of Karolinska Instituet in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues followed 7,469 people who were diagnosed with RA from 1995 to 2006 for about 12 years to see how many of them developed heart disease and heart attacks compared with 37,024 people without RA.
Among people with RA, the risk of heart attack was 60% higher and the risk of other forms of ischemic heart disease was 50% higher beginning one year after their diagnosis compared to their counterparts without RA. "Our research underlines the importance of clinicians monitoring patients diagnosed with RA for an increased risk of heart problems, in particular heart attacks," Holmqvist says in a news release. "It is also very clear that more research is needed to determine the mechanisms that link these two health conditions.”
In recent years, the emphasis has been on early, aggressive RA treatment in the hopes of preventing many RA complications, including mobility issues and potential heart disease. In the new study, however, this increased heart risk was still seen in people who were diagnosed in the past decade and presumably treated aggressively.