Link Between Arthritis and Heart Disease Risk Discovered
Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Arthritis Research Center of Canada, Vancouver, recently completed a study that has determined that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sufferers have a 50% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease including a 59% increased risk of death due to heart attack and a 52% increase in stroke deaths." Perhaps more ominously, they also noted that RA sufferers have not enjoyed the same reduction in cardiovascular disease death as the general public over time.
Previous studies had failed to uniformly establish the increased risk associated with RA which the researchers blamed on study design. The new study involved what is called a meta-analysis of 24 earlier studies that included well over 100,000 patients. Meta-analysis is a statistical technique widely used in medical research that combines the results of several studies that ask the same or similar research questions. Some studies often fail to show any statistical significance for a factor such as RA because of small study size (number of participants). Meta-analysis solves this problem by combining data from many smaller studies.
Not All is Gloom and Doom for Arthritis Sufferers
Despite the alarming results of the new study, a large and unresolved issue offers hope for RA sufferers battling heart disease. Researchers noted that the majority of the study participants included patients that had not been treated with modern therapies for RA. Head researcher Dr J Antonio Aviña-Zubieta noted, "The benefit of newer therapies with biologics remains to be determined. More studies specifically evaluating mortality in RA patients treated with biologics would be valuable. These studies are urgently needed." A good example of this is the QUEST-RA study which found that RA patients treated with newer agents such as methotrexate and infliximab reduced cardiovascular disease risk anywhere from 10%-18%.
From a heart health consumer standpoint the take-away advice here is that RA should be considered an independent risk factor for heart disease. If you have RA, talk to your doctor about this even if your other heart disease risk factors, such as cholesterol, are low.
Looking out for your heart health,