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Are You at Risk? The Link Between Autoimmune Disease & Heart Health

Severe RA Doubles the Risk of Heart Disease

In the last few decades, researchers discovered that the burden autoimmune diseases like

Rheumatoid Arthritis puts on the joints during the first year of diagnosis is a strong

predictor of heart disease. 2 In fact, it is recommended that doctors who diagnose patients

with RA should also be addressing potential heart risks.


There have been several new studies from the Mayo Clinic that show a strong connection

between inflammation and heart health. Therefore, it is important to address both

conditions at the same time.


Dr. Eric Matteson, chair of rheumatology at the Mayo Clinic, says that people with

rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other chronic inflammatory conditions are at a much higher

risk of heart disease. In fact, people with severe RA are twice as likely to develop heart

disease. Metteson believes that the inflammatory process of arthritis plays a key role in

maintaining a healthy heart.


Therefore, if you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease such as Rheumatoid

Arthritis, it is imperative that you meet with a cardiologist. Autoimmune diseases are

known to not only affect the joints in your body by causing painful stiffness and

inflammation, but also negatively affect major organs such as the heart.


One symptom that can develop from an autoimmune disease diagnosis such as RA is called

vasculitis, or inflammation of the blood vessels that move blood throughout the body. “As the blood vessels become inflamed, their walls thicken, limiting how much blood can pass

through them. As a result, if blood flow is restricted, this could cause significant damage to

tissues and organs.”3


Because Rheumatoid vasculitis is a non-joint-related inflammatory complication of RA,

Rheumatoid vasculitis can affect anyone.4 If you or a loved one have been suffering with

RA for many years and developed severe joint damage and deformity, it is important to

make an appointment to get your heart checked.


What causes vasculitis?

Researchers are not sure exactly what causes rheumatoid vasculitis. Like RA itself, most

cases of RV can be considered autoimmune diseases. An autoimmune disorder occurs when

the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues.


Several factors are thought to play a role in whether a person with RA will go on to develop

RV, including whether you have:

● Severe, long-standing RA for 10 or more years

● Seropositive RA (a high concentration of rheumatoid factor antibodies and certain

proteins in the blood)

● A history of smoking cigarettes, which can damage the blood vessels’ lining

● Felty’s syndrome, a complication of rheumatoid arthritis that results in low white

blood cell levels and an enlarged spleen

● Rheumatoid nodules, firm lumps under the skin that form around the joints


The Facts

According to the CDC:

● One out of every four people in the United States dies from heart disease

● Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most

racial and ethnic groups.

● One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease

● People with autoimmune diseases are at a much greater risk for heart disease

● Making lifestyle changes to your diet, exercise, sleep and stress greatly reduces risk

● In some cases, medicine reduces risk.5


Therefore, if you or a loved one suffer from an autoimmune disease, be sure to schedule an

appointment with a trusted cardiologist for a check-up. The most important step you can

take to reduce your risk for developing heart disease is taking action.


1 Krans, B. (2013, October 27). Mayo Clinic: Ra can drastically impact heart health. Healthline. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/arthritis-ra-raises-your-risk-of-heart-disease-102713

2 Krans, B. (2013, October 27). Mayo Clinic: Ra can drastically impact heart health. Healthline. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/arthritis-ra-raises-your-risk-of-heart-disease-102713

3 Menard, V., & Teitel, A. D. (2021, May 6). Vasculitis: The risks of ra inflammation. myRAteam. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.myrateam.com/resources/vasculitis-the-risks-of-ra-inflammation

4 Menard, V., & Teitel, A. D. (2021, May 6). Vasculitis: The risks of ra inflammation. myRAteam. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.myrateam.com/resources/vasculitis-the-risks-of-ra-inflammation

5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, February 7). Heart disease facts. Centers for

Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

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