People with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to get heart disease or have a heart attack, but they can take action to lower that risk.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease in which various joints in the body are inflamed, leading to swelling, pain, stiffness and the possible loss of function, according to the University of Maryland Medical System
. Physicians don't know exactly what causes rheumatoid arthritis.
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According to the Arthritis Foundation
, the same inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis that damages a person's joints can harm his or her cardiovascular health. Evidence shows a clear-cut and concerning link between rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease.
A 2013 Mayo Clinic study found that people with rheumatoid arthritis have 1.5 to 2 times the risk of heart disease compared to the general population according to the Arthritis Foundation. The same study also found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis have twice the risk of developing heart failure.
Inflammation related to rheumatoid arthritis can cause your blood vessels to narrow, trapping fat, cholesterol, calcium and other things that form plaque, a hard substance that clogs arteries and makes it hard for blood to flow through the body, reports the Arthritis Foundation. The plaque from rheumatoid arthritis also tends to be less stable and more prone to rupture.
While most heart failure involves a problem with the pumping cycle instead of the relaxation cycle, people with rheumatoid arthritis tend to experience the less common kind of heart failure involving the relaxation phase.
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"Patients with RA tend not to have classic symptoms of heart failure, which means warning signs may be overlooked," reports the Arthritis Foundation.
"The more severe a person's rheumatoid arthritis, the more likely it is that he or she will experience heart problems," the website added.
WebMD recommends eight steps rheumatoid arthritis
patients can take to lower their risk of getting heart disease or having a heart attack.
They include: Avoiding smoking; limiting salt and saturated fats; avoiding foods made with trans fats; getting plenty of physical activity; if heart disease runs in your family, tell your physician; eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat protein such as fish, poultry, beans, nuts, seeds and low-fat dairy; staying at a healthy weight; and monitoring conditions that affect your heart, including blood pressure and cholesterol.
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