Harvard Heart Letter

Joint inflammation may point the finger at heart disease

Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.

If you are coping with the joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, you have plenty to worry about. Even so, it's worth making the effort to pay extra attention to the health of your heart and arteries.

Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and related autoimmune disorders are chronic health problems caused by a misguided immune system. Certain kinds of white blood cells, which ordinarily protect the body from infection, attack its tissues instead. In rheumatoid arthritis, the destruction is mainly in the joints, causing inflammation and pain. In lupus, the immune system can turn against the joints, skin, lungs, blood vessels, heart, liver, kidneys, and nervous system. These two conditions afflict about four million Americans, most of them women.

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