Features February 2008 Issue

RA and Heart Disease: Unraveling the Mysterious Link

Although the relationship between the two is still not entirely understood, you can take steps to reduce your cardiovascular risk.

Doctors have known for years that people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) live shorter lives than those without the disease. Today doctors know that people with RA have a higher rate of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular-related death than those without RA, even though the connection is not yet clear. A disturbing common denominator between rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease appears to be inflammation. Although its exact role is not understood, the discovery of the connection affects how the diseases are diagnosed and treated. "The theory is that, while rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, the inflammation doesn’t stop there. It may also affect organs outside the joints, such as blood vessels. Thus, affected blood vessels of the heart could lead to heart disease," says M. Elaine Husni, MD, MPH, who works in Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Rheumatic and Immunologic Diseases and is director of Clinical Outcomes Research.

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