(ĐTĐ) - According to the American College of Rheumatology, rheumatoid arthritis almost doubles the risk of having a heart attack within the first 10 years of getting an RA diagnosis. The good news is that a heart-healthy lifestyle and certain medications may help protect the heart.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a serious type of arthritis that can cause severe joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. It is caused when your body's cells recognize normal proteins as foreign intruders and attack, leading to an immune response -- the inflammation and stiffness that are characteristic of RA. Those immune cells, abnormally activated, are called lymphocytes, and they release cytokines. Cytokines trigger cell destruction.
The ongoing battle between the body's chemicals occurs mainly in the joints. But the inflammation can spill over to other areas of the body.
The main treatment goal of rheumatoid arthritis is to control inflammation. Your doctor will do this by using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying drugs (DMARDs), and other drugs, such as corticosteroids.
In addition to medications, joint protection is important in RA. Treatment may include regular exercises, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and surgery.
What Is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis, an inflammatory immune disorder, is also referred to as hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis happens when tiny plaques form inside the arteries.
Over time, the plaques build up in the arteries that go to the heart. When the plaques break off or when blood clots form on the plaques, they block the blood flow through the artery. This is called coronary artery disease (CAD). Coronary artery disease increases the chance of heart attack, stroke, and sudden cardiac death.
Why iIs the Risk of Heart Attack Higher in Those with RA??
Researchers are not sure of the exact reasons why those with rheumatoid arthritis have a greater risk of heart attack. They do know that like rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis is thought to be an inflammatory immune disorder. Inflammation is linked with heart disease and the risk of heart attack.
Some researchers think the inflammation characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis may cause higher levels of inflammation in the body generally. This inflammation triggers plaque in the arteries to form blood clots. Markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein, are associated with an increased chance of atherosclerosis..
In addition, some treatments used for rheumatoid arthritis may increase the risk of heart disease. They include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDs
- Prednisone and other steroid drugs
- Celebrex, a Cox-2 inhibitor
If I Have RA, Can I Reduce My Risk of Heart Attack?
Yes, there are steps to prevent heart attack with RA. No matter how long you've had RA, living a heart-healthy lifestyle may decrease the chances of heart attack.
In one study reported by the Arthritis Foundation, researchers found that even with the increased risk of heart disease with RA, a heart-healthy lifestyle can lower this risk. This gives some positive control over your heart's health and overall well-being.
A heart-healthy lifestyle may include:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet that's filled with fruits, vegetables, low-fat protein such as poultry, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds, low-fat dairy, and whole grains
- Reading package labels and avoiding foods high in sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol
- Stopping cigarette smoking
- Getting plenty of physical activity and exercise
- Getting regular checkups; talk to your doctor about your lifestyle habits, including diet, and exercise..
- Getting regular heart disease screening tests for high blood pressure, blood sugars, and high cholesterol; talk to your doctor about your health history and your family history of heart disease.
- Staying at a normal weight; obesity is a key risk factor for heart disease.
- Having an electrocardiogram; talk to your doctor about tests to check for heart disease. If you have symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath, your doctor may do an exercise stress test.
Can RA Medications Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack??
Talk with your doctor about your medications. Ask if there are rheumatoid arthritis medications that may need to be changed. Ask if the dosages you're taking can keep your heart healthy.
Findings in the journal Arthritis Research and Therapy show that medications such as methotrexate, other DMARDs, and biologics -- all used to control inflammation of RA -- may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
In addition, some doctors prescribe statins to lower the risk of heart disease..