We usually associate rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. However, the impact of RA extends beyond the joints and significantly affects other vital organs, including the heart. Awareness of the connection between RA and heart health emphasizes the importance of holistic healthcare when creating a treatment plan.

Inflammation’s Role in Rheumatoid Arthritis and Heart Disease

Chronic inflammation is one of the primary links between RA and heart disease. RA is an autoimmune disorder associated with inflammation throughout the body. Not only does the inflammation damage the joints, but it also contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries. The buildup causes the blood vessels to narrow and block the flow of blood 

Shared Risk Factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Heart Disease

There are certain risk factors for RA which overlap those for heart disease, which include:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking (or secondhand smoke)
  • Age
  • Stress
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol levels

These shared risk factors emphasize the importance for anyone with RA to be extra vigilant when it comes to their heart.

The Increased Risk for Heart Disease for Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Studies have consistently shown that people with RA are at a higher risk for heart disease compared to the general population. This includes a greater likelihood of suffering from heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure. Furthermore, cardiovascular disease is one of the leading non-underlying causes of death (NUCD) for individuals with RA.

The Importance of RA Management and Heart Health

Medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis may also help reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Recent clinical trials found that RA patients who were using immunomodulators, which are drugs that reduce inflammation, also saw a reduction in arterial inflammation.

However, other medications, such as corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may increase the risk of cardiovascular events. This underscores the importance of closely monitoring RA patients, especially those with existing cardiovascular risk factors.

The Holistic Approach to Rheumatoid Arthritis and Heart Health

Managing RA goes beyond treating joint symptoms. It’s crucial to address the underlying inflammation and its systemic effects by adopting a holistic approach.

The foundation is an anti-inflammatory diet. Incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help mitigate inflammation and support overall wellness.

Low-impact physical activity is also vital to managing RA and cardiovascular health. Tai Chi has proven highly effective at increasing mobility and flexibility and lowering stress. It may also be beneficial in reducing joint pain. In addition, alternative therapies, such as massage, can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. But, massage therapy should only be done under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

Stress and mental health have profound impacts on both RA and heart health. Techniques such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and stress-reduction strategies can be beneficial in managing the psychological aspects of living with a chronic condition, thereby potentially reducing flare-ups.

We Provide Comprehensive Care for Rheumatoid Arthritis

The relationship between rheumatoid arthritis and heart health is a complex interplay of inflammation and shared risk factors, underscoring the importance of comprehensive care for individuals with RA. At Advanced Rheumatology of Houston, we understand RA is more than just joint pain. 

Our professional staff will work with you to develop a treatment plan that combines medication, pain management, and lifestyle changes, prioritizing both joint and cardiovascular health.

Contact us to schedule an appointment by calling (281) 766-7886.