Heart disease. We all know about it, we all want to prevent it and sadly, we all know someone with it. When we think of heart disease, our minds naturally think of heart attacks or maybe heart failure. We think of an overweight man with high blood pressure and diabetes, although we know women are just as affected. But did you know that inflammatory arthritis can be associated with heart disease? In fact, most autoimmune or inflammatory arthritis types can lead to disease of every part of the heart. Watch the video above or keep reading to learn more!
How arthritis leads to heart disease
In the simplest of terms, the heart is made up of heart muscle, arteries (that feed the heart muscle with blood) and heart valves. The entire heart hangs in a very thin bag, filled with a small amount of fluid, call the pericardium. In autoimmune diseases, each part of the heart can be inflamed and thus cause problems. Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, can cause chest pain or palpitations. Pericarditis can also cause chest pain but the pain changes depending on your position (it’s worse when you lay down, better when leaning forward. When the valves have been inflamed, they can become either too stiff or too loose, which can lead to heart failure. The risk of these conditions depends on the underlying type of arthritis. With some conditions they are rare and with others, more common. For this reason, it is important to talk with your doctor about your risk.
One long term aspect of autoimmune disease that few people are aware of, however, is the risk for cardiovascular disease, sometimes years after the initial arthritis diagnosis. Cardiovascular disease is exactly that. Disease of the heart and the blood vessels. It is related to atherosclerosis, plaque build-up and heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease. So what does this mean? This means that if you have rheumatoid arthritis or another inflammatory arthritis, your risk for developing heart disease is higher than someone without RA and on par with someone with diabetes.
But don’t despair – there is something we can do about it!
Studies tell us that if we control the arthritis, the inflammation and all the other known risk factors (blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol), this risk can be substantially decreased. So you see, when discussing your arthritis treatment, there are two goals. Help you feel better TODAY. And help you lower your risk for heart complications TOMORROW. This doesn’t mean you need a truck load of medications. Diet changes, daily movement, good sleep and healthy relationships have all be shown to have positive effects on all these risk factors, all without significant side effects.
With inflammatory arthritis, it is always more than just the joint. Watch the video for more information and start a conversation with your doctor about what you can be doing to lower your risk for heart disease now and in the future.
In good health,