Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that happens when your immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s own tissues, causing inflammation. The inflammation primarily affects your joints, but it affects other parts of your body too.
People with RA are at risk of developing a number of other inflammatory conditions, including heart disease, the leading cause of heart failure.
In this article, you’ll learn about the connection between RA and heart failure, as well as how people with RA can prevent heart problems before they happen.
Inflammation can hurt your body in all kinds of ways. When inflammation is chronic (long lasting), it can contribute to a variety of health problems and complications. Chronic inflammation has been linked to the development of heart conditions such as coronary artery disease and heart failure.
Overall, heart disease is the leading cause of death in people with RA.
If your RA is severe or not well controlled, your risk of heart disease goes up even further.
People with RA primarily experience inflammation in their joints, but this inflammation actually affects their entire body. According to research, high C-reactive protein levels — an indicator of inflammation in the bloodstream — was linked to a higher risk of heart disease in people with RA.
According to a review of research studying more than 5 million people, people with RA were nearly
Heat failure appears to be most common among women with RA. According to the research, which identified participants as either “men” or “women,” women with RA were
Heart failure is a serious heart condition that happens when your heart isn’t able to pump blood well enough to meet your body’s demands. Heart failure can happen suddenly, such as after your heart muscle is damaged during a heart attack. But it often develops slowly over time.
Typically, heart failure happens as a result of another chronic condition, such as heart disease.
If you have RA, inflammation isn’t the only thing that can increase your risk of developing heart failure. Other risk factors include:
The risk of heart problems in people with RA increases over time. Managing your condition can help lower your risk of heart disease and heart failure. This means that it’s important to work closely with a doctor or healthcare professional to treat your RA.
It’s also important to pay attention to your symptoms so that you can get help if your RA flares up. Symptoms of your RA possibly causing more inflammation than it used to include:
- worsening pain in one or more joints
- increased stiffness in one or more joints
- tenderness and swelling
- loss of joint function
- deformities in your hands or feet
- nodules under your skin
- low-grade fever
People with RA are at increased risk of heart disease. Heart disease often develops before heart failure. If you experience any symptoms of heart disease, you should talk with a doctor right away. There are treatment options available.
Symptoms to look for include:
- chest pain or discomfort
- a feeling of pressure or squeezing in your chest
- shortness of breath
- feelings of indigestion or gas
When it comes to heart failure, there are several varieties and degrees of damage you could experience. Your symptoms can vary depending on which side of your heart is most affected — the left versus the right — and what other health problems you have.
Some common symptoms of heart failure include:
- shortness of breath
- swelling in your legs or ankles
- sudden weight gain
- a persistent cough
- loss of appetite
- swelling in your abdomen
- fluttering heart or racing heart rate
- exercise (activity) intolerance
- you start having to sleep with extra pillows
- heart palpitations
- you get more short of breath while lying down
- protruding neck veins
To lower your risk of heart disease and heart failure, you should work closely with a doctor, such as a rheumatologist. Treating your RA will help lower chronic inflammation and lower your chances of experiencing heart problems.
Medications used to treat RA and lower inflammation include:
- disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs
- Janus kinase inhibitors
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
It’s important to note that some of these medications, including over-the-counter NSAIDs, can worsen heart failure in people who already have it. Be sure to check with a doctor before starting any new medications.
Overall, more research is needed on how RA treatments impact heart health and whether there are any protective strategies that could be used early on in the RA treatment process to head off cardiovascular complications.
The other way people with RA can lower their risk of heart problems is by dealing with other cardiac risk factors.
This can mean treating other conditions, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, which further increase your risk of heart disease. Or it could mean making healthy lifestyle changes that lower your overall risks and improve your heart health.
Heart failure treatments focus on improving your heart’s function by helping it pump harder or beat more regularly.
Some examples of medications that might be used to treat heart failure include:
- blood thinners
- angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors
- angiotensin II receptor blockers
- calcium channel blockers
- cholesterol-lowering medications
- angiotensin receptor-neprilysin inhibitors
- sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 inhibitors
Other therapies such as surgery, pacemaker or defibrillator implantation, or cardiac rehabilitation are also potential options for people with heart failure.
People with RA have an increased risk of developing heart disease and heart failure. This happens because RA causes chronic inflammation, which, over time, affects your heart’s ability to function. Treating RA and managing chronic inflammation can help lower your risk of cardiac complications.