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New Diagnosis of RA Sharply Raises Heart Attack Risk

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Scientists have found the risk of having a heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI), sharply rises with new diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In the study that followed 7,469 patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) between 1995 and 2006, the chances of MI were found to increase 60 percent one to four years after diagnosis.

50 Percent Increase in Ischemic Heart Disease from Rheumatoid Arthritis

The research showed the chances of ischemic heart disease increased 50 percent within one to four years and remained the same for 5 to 12 years.

Lead study author Marie Holmqvist from the Karolinska Institutet says, "Our findings emphasize the importance of monitoring a patient's heart risk from the moment they are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, as the risk rises rapidly in the first few years."

The study participants were followed an average of 4 years; the longest follow-up was twelve years. Average age at diagnosis was 57; 71 percent were women.

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The scientists looked specifically at heart attack risk compared to 37,024 matched controls without RA.

They also compared patients with rheumatoid arthritis with and without positive rheumatoid factor (RF) that is a general test for measuring autoimmune activity in the body, finding the risk of heart attack was 70 percent in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and positive rheumatoid factor.

For ischemic heart disease and heart attack, the risk rose sharply after 12 months, though some heightened risk appeared in year one that the researchers say was not statistically significant.

Holmqvist says the findings show the importance of monitoring patients with rheumatoid arthritis for heart disease and heart attack risk, "the moment they are diagnosed". The sudden chance of heart attack found shortly after diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis suggests reasons unrelated to atherosclerosis that should be further investigated.

Journal of Internal Medicine. 268, pp578-585. (December 2010). DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2796.2010.02260.x