Arthritis sufferers are 40 per cent more likely to develop fatal heart problems and at 30 per cent greater risk from suffering strokes, according to a large scale study.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attacks the cells that line the joints making them swollen, stiff and painful. Over time this can damage the joint, cartilage and nearby bone.
Danish researchers have found that the inflammation of joints that occurs with rheumatoid arthritis may cause the heart to beat irregularly. An irregular heartbeat, called atrial fibrillation, can lead to the formation of blood clots which can trigger a stroke.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects around 580,000 people in England and Wales.
Scientists from Copenhagen University studied more than 4 million people, 18,250 of which had rheumatoid arthritis over a period of 5 years.
Their results, published on the website BMJ.com, showed that those with rheumatoid arthritis were 40 per cent more likely to suffer atrial fibrillation, and were at a 30 per cent higher risk of stroke than the general public.
In a group of 1,000 normal patients, 6 would be likely to suffer from atrial fibrillation in any given year, and 5.7 would be likely to have a stroke. In a group of 1,000 rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, 8 would suffer atrial fibrillation and 7.6 would be likely to have a stroke.
The researchers say that doctors need to be aware of these heightened risks amongst their patients. Annual screening for cardiovascular risk factors in patients with the condition should include screening for atrial fibrillation.
Professor Michael Ehrenstein, of Arthritis Research UK said: ‘Inflammation plays a central role in rheumatoid arthritis and in the disease process of many other related conditions, so it’s not surprising that it may also play a role in the development of atrial fibrillation.’
Scientists recently discovered a possible new method of treating rheumatoid arthritis, using a drug that ‘blindfolds’ white blood cells.
Since arthritis is considered a chronic condition, it is unlikely that it will be covered by private medical insurance. However, if a cure is found for the condition it could be covered on your policy in the future, so compare health insurance online now.
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