What happens if you do have symptoms of something wonky with your heart? Many of us know of the infamous stress test during which you're hooked up to machines while you run on a treadmill. According to Dr. Jackson, the treadmill is usually the "first diagnostic test, but echocardiograms are also used to check for blockages and changes in [heart] walls." Echocardiograms are ultrasounds of your heart that require you to lie on your back and half on your side while a technician move the ultrasound wand across your chest.
If your RA affects your ability to run on a treadmill, there are other options. One common alternative is a dobutamine stress echocardiogram. In this test, a drug called dobutamine is administered through an IV. It speeds up your heart, mimicking the effects of exercise. According to Dr. Jackson, once the echocardiogram is done and the medication is stopped, your heart rate returns to normal. Dr. Jackson also mentioned other alternatives to a treadmill stress test, including angiograms and CT scans, such as coronary calcium. Be aware that recent research indicates that a CT scan exposes you to a very high level of radiation and both the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiolog advise against routine screening involving CT scans.
Managing Heart Disease Risk
One of the most effective tools you have to manage your risk of heart disease is to get your RA treated. Reducing the amount of inflammation in your body will improve your heart health. Studies have shown that the Biologics in particular can cut the risk of heart attack by as much as half and improve outcomes if heart attacks do occur.
Making lifestyle changes can also do much to reduce your risk. Quitting smoking is a huge contributor to making you healthier. Being aware of what you eat is also important. The Western diet with its emphasis on meat and fried foods is notorious for raising heart attack risk. Increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet and adding soy and tofu can do much to cut your risk.
Maintain a healthy weight isn't just good for your joints, but also for your heart. If you're overweight, talk to your family doctor about how best to approach weight loss. A referral to a nutritionist or dietician may be helpful in this process. Our Diet and Exercise site can also help you with tips for losing weight. Keeping the weight off can be a challenge, especially if you take prednisone, but the benefits to your health can be an excellent motivator.
Being physically active also contributes to improving your heart health. This is not as easy as it sounds when you have RA. Pain and fatigue can put a real damper on your ability to just move around, nevermind getting the heart pumping in a good cardio workout. However, keep in mind that any movement is good - check out Cathy's suggestions for exercise at different levels of disease activity.