Possible link discovered between rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease

Study uncovers associations between rheumatoid arthritis, other ailments.

Washington: People diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes or blood clots have been found to be at a heightened risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

People who have rheumatoid arthritis are further prone to having heart disease, blood clots and sleep apnea, suggests a new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect not only the joints but also can damage a wide variety of body systems, including the lungs, heart and blood vessels.

Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of joints, causing a painful swelling that can result in bone erosion and joint deformity.

Comorbidities, or other chronic diseases or conditions, have been linked to poorer outcomes for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, including worsened physical disability, functional decline, poorer quality of life and increased mortality.

"We found that comorbidities accumulate in an accelerated fashion after diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis," said the study's corresponding author Vanessa Kronzer, M.D., a clinician investigator fellow in rheumatology at Mayo Clinic.

"We also found that autoimmune diseases and epilepsy may predispose to development of rheumatoid arthritis, while heart disease and other conditions may develop as a result of rheumatoid arthritis," Kronzer added.

The findings have important implications for understanding how rheumatoid arthritis develops. It also could lead to earlier detection and screening initiatives for other diseases and conditions.

The study identified 821 patients with rheumatoid arthritis who were diagnosed at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and Florida between January 2009 and February 2018, and enlisted 2,455 control participants, for a total sample of 3,276 participants.

Researchers found that 11 comorbidities were associated with rheumatoid arthritis, including epilepsy and pulmonary fibrosis.

Among other new information in the study, blood clots occurred more commonly in rheumatoid arthritis cases before diagnosis, suggesting that systemic inflammation may start before the rheumatoid arthritis symptoms become clinically apparent.

The association with Type 1 diabetes prior to the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis also was strong, highlighting the importance of heightened suspicion of rheumatoid arthritis in patients with autoimmune diseases, and vice versa.

"Our findings suggest that people with certain conditions, such as Type 1 diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease, should be carefully monitored for rheumatoid arthritis," suggested Dr. Kronzer.

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