Women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are proven to have higher risk of having heart attack in comparison to women not having RA. Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating disease that can occur in any age, but higher incidences are reported in 20- 40 years of age and more than 75% cases occur in women. Although RA is not life threatening but it may cause pain, stiffness, swelling, inflammation and loss of physical function of many joints.
Several studies have suggested a correlation between rheumatoid arthritis and higher risk of heart attack, but the exact link has yet to be established.
Researchers suggest that inflammation, which is a main symptom in RA, may contribute to increased deposition of fat in the blood vessels, which results in narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), one of main cause of heart attack. In both the conditions, inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein are found to be increased along with abnormal T-cells (important cells that modulate inflammation).
Other factors of having heart attack could be decreased physical activity, diabetes, high blood pressure, raised cholesterol level, increased consumption of alcohol and smoking.
To support this relationship, a database from the nurses’ health study (based on study of 121,700 women) was used, where all the women were between 30- 55 years of age (in 1976, when baseline health and lifestyle questionnaire were completed). Every 2 years, these women were sent a follow up questionnaire to update their health and lifestyle. From this database, the researchers attempted to contact 7,786 women who self-reported to have RA between 1978 and 1996. After confirming the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in 527 women, there were 2,296 heart attacks and 1,326 strokes incidences among them.
Therefore, it was concluded that women with RA have twice more risk of having heart attacks and if RA is more than 10 years then the risk becomes 3 times more as compared to women without RA, whereas stroke risk is similar in both the groups.
This study suggests that rheumatoid arthritis should be used as test marker for evaluating risk of heart attack or coronary heart disease. Hence, aggressive cardiac prevention should be considered in patients having rheumatoid arthritis.