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Rheumatoid arthritis linked to excess risk of congestive heart failure

A serious chronic disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterized by inflammation and damage of the joint, major organ involvement and increased mortality. Among patients, about one in three deaths results from cardiovascular disease (conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels). Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a major contributor to cardiovascular-related deaths but not just among RA patients. This condition progressively weakens the heart's pumping power, leading to retention of fluid that causes swelling of legs and abdomen, as well as congestion in the lungs. A leading cause of hospitalization among senior citizens, CHF affects up to 5 percent of Americans over age 65. Its victims have anywhere between a 4- and 18-fold increased risk of dying from a cardiovascular event.

In the general population, studies have associated CHF with cytokines. Cytokines are molecules the body produces to regulate inflammation. Cytokines are also important in autoimmune diseases, including RA. On the strength of this link, researchers at the Mayo Clinic set out to investigate whether RA patients are more vulnerable to this form of heart disease. Published in the February 2005 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism (http://www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/arthritis), their findings indicate RA as a significant risk factor for CHF independent of established risk factors for heart attack and a history of atherosclerosis. Indeed, based on their study of over 1,100 subjects over 46 years, the researchers concluded that the odds for developing CHF are doubled among RA patients.

The study's subjects were all residents of Olmsted County in Rochester, Minnesota. Using a county-wide medical records linkage system, the researchers identified 575 patients with RA, diagnosed between January 1, 1955 and January 1, 1995. These patient
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Contact: Amy Molnar
amolnar@wiley.com
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
3-Feb-2005


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