How Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect the Heart?

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Some people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) find their premature death due to stroke, heart attack, or other cardiovascular conditions. From this background, it’s thought that RA can affect the heart, increasing the risk of heart problems. Fortunately, some healthy lifestyles and medications can help reduce this risk!

In fact, RA is a systematic inflammatory disease

image_illustration281Like most things in arthritis, RA primarily affects the joints, too. However since it is a systematic condition, it can affect the whole body. In other words, the inflammation of RA can affect other parts of the body, including the heart.

The widespread inflammation of RA that affects the whole body can lead to what are called as ‘systemic symptoms’. These symptoms are more likely to occur for advanced RA.

Problems related to the advanced RA may include:

  1. Abnormality in muscles and nerves. A common condition that affects nerves related to RA is carpal tunnel syndrome. It occurs when over compression hits certain nerves in the wrist. It is more likely to occur when you have RA in the wrists. RA can affect the muscles around the joint, too – causing muscle pain!
  2. The widespread inflammation of RA can affect the lungs. For instance, it could cause inflammation in the membrane sacs around the lungs and this may lead to difficult breathing and pain.
  3. Inflammation in certain parts of the eyes, causing some eye problems!
  4. Problems related to the function of blood vessels.
  5. Heart problems.
  6. RA and some of its treatments can increase the risk of weakening the bones such as a condition what we call as osteoporosis.

In addition, in a few cases RA could lead to hair loos, too. For in-depth information about this issue see this section!

The reasons of why and how RA affects the heart!

Statistics show that having RA or other rheumatic diseases can increase the risk of getting die at younger ages. Even with the current modern innovation of treatment, the gap in life expectancy remains.

Physicians and experts have long known that RA is linked to the raised risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases. Unfortunately this link is less understood yet.

But the evidence increasingly blames & points to widespread inflammation as a main contributor to the raised risk of heart problem and other cardiovascular diseases in people with RA.

In the onset of RA, the abnormality of immune system attacks the sensitive membranes surrounding the joint called synovium. The inflammation of synovium can affect other crucial parts of the joint, such as the cartilage and bones.

And the inflammation could affect other organs /parts of the body, as noted before. The following are some possible ways of how RA affects the heart and cardiovascular system:

The risk of swelling inside arteries

Arteries play a key role to distribute nutrients and oxygen in the blood throughout the entire body. The inflammation of RA could affect the inner linings of blood vessels (such as arteries), causing swelling.

This swelling can narrow the blood vessels, affecting the blood flow and leading to high blood pressure (hypertension). Any hardening and narrowing artery can be a serious threat for your cardiovascular system.

High blood pressure itself can make the swelling worse. Over time, poorly-controlled hypertension is a common trigger /cause of many cardiovascular diseases.

The risk of atherosclerosis

Chronic inflammation of RA could pose the risk of developing changes in the lining of blood vessels. Some of these changes may make bad cholesterols and other harmful substances easier to deposit in the walls of blood vessels, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis.

If atherosclerosis gets worse, over time it could lead to a clogged artery, a life-threatening condition. Furthermore, some evidences show that poorly-controlled RA might make the deposits of cholesterol easier to become unstable, increasing the risk of a heart attack.

The risk of pericarditis

Systemic inflammation of RA could occur in the thin sac-like tissue (called pericardium) around the heart, causing a condition called pericarditis (inflammation of pericardium).

The major symptom of pericarditis is usually chest pain that may be followed with fever. The pain can be sharp and stabbing – and it tends to get worse when you cough, swallow, lie down, or take a deep breath.

Constrictive pericarditis (inflamed pericardium can abnormally thicken and contract around the heart) and pericardial effusion (build-up of fluid between the 2 layers of pericardium) are some complications of pericarditis. And these complications can impair the function of the heart.

The risk of myocarditis

RA could affect the muscles around the heart, too – causing a condition called myocarditis (inflammation that affects myocardium, the heart wall’s middle layer).

The worsening myocarditis is a serious condition. It can affect the way of your heart in pumping the blood. And as a result, your heart could fail in supplying adequate blood throughout the body.

Abnormal heart rhythms and chest pain are the common symptoms. The treatment is usually focused to treat the underlying cause behind the problem.


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