Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Rheumatoid arthritis should heighten heart awareness

Rheumatoid arthritis begins in the joints, but it doesn't end there. The inflammation that causes swelling and pain in fingers, wrists, knees, and other joints can also affect the heart. A large study from Sweden suggests that a new diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis should get you thinking about your heart, too.

In a group of 7,500 men and women with new rheumatoid arthritis whose health was followed for up to 12 years, more people than expected had a heart attack, developed chest pain with activity or stress (angina), or needed a procedure to open or bypass a blocked heart artery within five years of their diagnosis (Journal of Internal Medicine, December 2010).

This work emphasizes how important it is for everyone with rheumatoid arthritis, including those just learning they have it, to focus on improving heart health while coping with their joint problems. Although an arthritis-specific approach to warding off heart disease doesn't yet exist, the basic steps for protecting the heart and arteries are a great start:

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »