People coping with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus already have a lot to deal with. Even so, paying attention to heart health may be especially important for this group. The August 2008 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter reports that rheumatoid arthritis doubles a person's risk of heart attack or cardiac arrest. Heart disease risk is even higher with lupus, and a new study suggests that gout, another common kind of arthritis, is also linked to cardiovascular disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and related autoimmune disorders are caused by a misguided immune system. Certain white blood cells, which ordinarily protect the body from infection, attack its tissues instead. Although no one knows exactly how these conditions are connected to cardiovascular disease, it is possible they all spring from the same source—inflammation.
Inflammation is an essential part of the body's defenses. In people with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, though, inflammation turns against the body and damages joints and other tissues. In heart disease, inflammation kicks off artery-clogging atherosclerosis, keeps it smoldering, and influences the formation of clots, the ultimate cause of heart attacks and many strokes.
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