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Researchers and experts say people with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to have major cardiovascular events, such as stroke and heart attack. Getty Images
  • A new study says people with rheumatoid arthritis face a higher risk for cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke.
  • The Arthritis Foundation also notes that people with rheumatoid arthritis face a 50 percent higher risk for heart disease than the general population.
  • Experts say regular exercise is a good way for people with rheumatoid arthritis to reduce pain and lower their risk for cardiovascular disease.

It’s not just your joints that rheumatoid arthritis can affect.

It can also affect your heart.

A new study published in the journal RMD Open concluded that the presence of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may be associated with an increased risk of major adverse cardiovascular events, also known as MACE.

The researchers said the increased association was more common in cases of RA that are either seropositive or considered to be active.

In the study, the researchers assessed this risk for MACE and death in people with RA who were required to have a cardiac CT scan for chest pain.

“In patients referred to cardiac CT due to chest pain, we found a trend of an association between RA and the combined primary outcome, supporting that RA per se, but in particular seropositive and active RA, may increase the risk [for coronary artery disease] even after initial [coronary artery disease] diagnosis and treatment,” the researchers said in a statement.

The data used for this registry was obtained from the Western Denmark Heart Registry and Danish National Patient Registry between 2008 and 2016.

The outcome of the study found a mix of cardiac events, such as myocardial infarction, percutaneous coronary intervention, ischemic or unspecified stroke, coronary artery bypass grafting, and other causes of death.

The Arthritis Foundation has noted this association between MACE and RA in the past.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, people with RA face a 50 to 70 percent higher risk for cardiovascular disease than the general population.

In addition, people with osteoarthritis face a 24 percent higher risk for cardiovascular disease than the general population.

Overall, the foundation reported, nearly half of all adults with heart disease also have some form of arthritis.

Women also have a higher risk for both heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. They sometimes face gender disparities in treatment for heart health issues and chronic pain.

Certain foods, such as seafood, and supplements, like fish oil and essential omega fatty acids, can help with both heart health and the inflammation of arthritis.

People living with RA should consult their doctor if they experience any new symptoms, want more information on heart health, or want to try out any new supplements or vitamins as a part of their treatment regimen.

The Arthritis Foundation and other experts recommend exercise as part of an overall balanced and healthful lifestyle of wellness for people with arthritis.

“There are many health benefits to exercising, even with arthritis,” Kindle Fisher, a physical therapist in Pennsylvania, told Healthline.

“Exercises such as walking, swimming, or using a stationary bike can increase blood flow and synovial fluid to the joints. Increasing blood flow will also strengthen the heart,” she said. “While there are severe cases of arthritis where it’s not always possible to do so, any type of activity can release endorphins, improve health, and help you feel better overall.”

People with RA say it’s important to keep a watch on their heart health but also to try to have a normal life.

“I became educated on how unchecked inflammation increases the risk of heart disease, including the risk of heart attack and stroke,” Sandra S. of British Columbia, Canada, told Healthline.

“Knowing this has allowed me to make more informed decisions when it comes to my health and highlights the importance of managing inflammation effectively,” she said.

William A. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, notes that while cardiovascular risk is a concern, it doesn’t consume his life.

“I became aware of the correlation between heart disease and RA just last year. I was first diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome in 2009, and my RA diagnosis came just 2 years ago,” he told Healthline.

“My heart has always worked extra hard and beat extra fast, but I’m lucky to have managed my blood pressure for the most part. It is a concern of mine, but I only really think about it when I am symptomatic,” he said.

“I’m grateful to have the information about a link with heart disease and rheumatoid disease, and I do see it in my work,” Cynthia S, a nurse from Philadelphia who has rheumatoid arthritis, told Healthline.

“But I feel if I continue to try to live a healthy lifestyle even with these health issues, I will thrive,” she said.