Rheumatoid Arthritis Raises the Risk of Irregular Heart Rhythm

According to a study by scientists at Copenhagen University Hospital Gentoffe, people with rheumatoid arthritis have an increased risk of irregular heart rhythm (known as atrial fibrillation), which is also a risk factor for stroke. The study involved more than four million people in Denmark, including 18,247 who had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Participants were followed for approximately five years, during which time cases of atrial fibrillation and stroke were recorded.

checking-pulseThe study revealed that people with rheumatoid arthritis were 40% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than people without the autoimmune disease (8.2 and 6 events per 1,000 person years respectively) and 30% more likely to suffer a stroke (7.6 and 5.7 events per 1,000 person years respectively).

The increased risk of atrial fibrillation and stroke among rheumatoid arthritis patients was most pronounced among patients who were younger than 50. In these patients, having rheumatoid arthritis was associated with about a threefold increase in risk for both conditions. Nonetheless, the researchers also add that the absolute differences in rates of atrial fibrillation and stroke between people with and without rheumatoid arthritis were highest in the oldest patients.

The researchers conclude that rheumatoid arthritis patients should be screened for cardiovascular risk factors, including the screening for atrial fibrillation. They also suggest that inflammation control is important for rheumatoid arthritis patients, not only to manage the joint symptoms, but also to reduce the need for drugs with potential adverse cardiovascular effects and, ultimately, to diminish the inflammation driven atherothrombotic process.


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