"We believe that inflammation is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease among rheumatoid arthritis patients," says Hilal Maradit Kremers, M.D., lead study investigator and research associate in the Mayo Clinic Department of Health Sciences Research.
Rheumatoid arthritis patients have a significantly increased risk of dying of a heart condition if they have swelling in the large joints, rheumatoid vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels), rheumatoid lung disease or a high erythrocyte sedimentation rate (a blood test commonly known as ESR that measures level of inflammation in the body), report the investigators in the March issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism (http://www.rheumatology.org/publications/ar).
"Our previous research showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients have a higher risk of early death than others and that these deaths are mostly due to cardiovascular disease," says Sherine Gabriel, M.D., the study's senior author and Mayo Clinic rheumatologist, epidemiologist and chair of the Department of Health Sciences Research. "We suspect that systemic inflammation promotes this risk. Our findings support this hypothesis."
The exact means by which the inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis can lead to heart disease is unclear, say the Mayo Clinic investigators, who indicate this is currently under study. The investigators hypothesize that if the degree of a rheumatoid arthritis patient's inflammation can be closely monitored and kept under strict control, the risk of death by heart condition may decrease. This hypothesis is also the subject of ongoing research.