Rheumatoid Arthritis is a systemic disease and affects much more than joints alone. RA patients have higher rates of cardiovascular disease. As rheumatologists we realize this because as our patients are doing so well regarding their arthritis with medication, other long term issues such as cardiovascular disease are now being recognized amongst our patients. The increased risk is almost as significant as the risk seen in diabetics. This is likely due to the increased inflammation seen in RA. Inflammation in the arterial walls over time is a variable involved in heart attacks and strokes.
So how can RA patients prevent heart disease:
1. Stop smoking
2. Make sure your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose are well controlled. That means actually having these checked periodically.
3. Get active. You must exercise regularly, in particular aerobic activity.
4. Eat healthy. Make smart food choices. If you are not aware of what these are, see a nutritionist.
5. Get your RA treated. Reducing inflammation may help in reducing cardiovascular disease risk long term. That’s the theory and makes sense, and is being more thoroughly studied.
While all the lifestyle recommendations are similar to what is recommended to the general public, the urgency is even higher for people with RA. So much so that when I see a newly diagnosed RA patient, we start talking about long term cardiovascular risk at the same time as we start discussing treating their joint disease. If you have RA, you absolutely must do all of the above recommendations. Your life literally depends on it!