Health & Wellness

Rheumatoid Arthritis Can Double Heart Attack Risk

People living with rheumatoid arthritis need to be monitored for heart disease

By Katrina Caruso


If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), you’re living with twice the usual risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis. If you’re not being monitored for heart disease, you should be.

Scientists say the increased risk is a result of the inflammation that RA causes, which affects not only the protective layer of tissue over one’s joints but also the heart and the endothelium, the cells that line blood vessels. It also affects veins, which can increase blood clots.

A result of inflammation damaging the blood vessels is atherosclerosis—plaque (made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances) builds up and leads to narrowed arteries, increased blood pressure, and decreased blood flow to the heart and other organs. The process often happens even before those with RA begin to feel joint pain.

A 2015 study, published in Nature Reviews Rheumatology, found that atherosclerosis occurred at a higher rate in people with RA. As well, the way the plaque builds up in the arteries is different in those with RA: the plaque is more brittle and prone to rupture. This can cause heart attacks.

About 4% of Canadians have inflammatory diseases, including RA, and the majority of those are women.

If you have RA, you should be eating a diet rich in heart-healthy foods such as fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats such as olive oil.

Photo: iStock/Wavebreakmedia.