People newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are twice as likely to have a heart attack, according to three reports recently presented at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) in San Francisco. RA is a chronic, systemic autoimmune disorder that prompts the immune system to attack the joints and causes inflammation throughout the body.

•    The first study, led by Hilal Maradit Kremers, MD, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, compared heart attack patients with RA and heart attack patients without RA. It found that those with RA have a 25 percent greater risk of developing heart failure after a heart attack and a 75 percent greater risk of dying.
•    The second study, led by Marie Gunnarsson, a doctoral student at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, found that the risk of heart attack among newly diagnosed RA patients doubled during the first 10 years after diagnosis.
•    The final study, led by Kimberly Liang, MD, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, found that diastolic dysfunction—heart failure that occurs when the heart’s ventricles (pumping chambers) become too stiff—was more common in patients with RA.

To prevent a heart attack, patients with RA need to pay particular attention to cholesterol and blood pressure and maintain a healthy lifestyle, suggests John Hardin, MD, chief science officer at the Arthritis Foundation. “If you have rheumatoid arthritis, the things you do to protect yourself against cardiovascular disease become doubly important,” says Dr. Hardin.

To learn more about RA, click here.