Arthritis sufferers '40 per cent more likely to develop fatal heart problems'
00:13 GMT, 9 March 2012
Arthritis sufferers are far more likely to develop fatal heart problems and strokes, a major study reveals today.
It shows that patients with rheumatoid arthritis have a 40 per cent higher risk of suffering from an irregular heartbeat which can lead to heart attacks and death.
They have also been found to be at 30 per cent greater risk from suffering strokes.
A survey found that arthritis sufferers have a 40 per cent higher risk of suffering from an irregular heartbeat
Danish researchers believe the inflammation of joints that occurs in arthritis may cause the heart to beat irregularly – a condition known as atrial fibrillation.
This can lead to the formation of blood clots which in turn can trigger a stroke.
Around 400,000 people in England and Wales suffer from rheumatoid arthritis which causes debilitating pain and swelling in the joints.
Scientists from Copenhagen University studied more than 4 million people of whom 18,250 had rheumatoid arthritis over a period of five years.
Those with rheumatoid arthritis were 40 per cent at higher risk of atrial fibrillation and 30 per cent higher risk of strokes than the general public.
Although this seems like a big increase, the overall risk still of having heart problems or strokes still remains low.
In a group of 1,000 normal patients, six would likely suffer from atrial fibrillation in any given year while 5.7 would be likely to have a stroke.
But amongst a group of 1,000 rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, 8 would be expected to have atrial fibrillation while 7.6 would be likely to have a stroke.
However the researchers – whose findings are published on the website BMJ.com – point out that doctors need to be aware of these heightened risks amongst their patients.
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.’
Rheumatoid arthritis tends to strike between the ages of 40 and 70 and is more common amongst women than men.
It happens when the body’s immune system attacks the cells lining the joints making them swollen, stiff and very painful.
Experts believe that it may trigger inflammation of the blood vessels which in turn triggers heart problems.
In 2010 Swedish researchers who had looked at 400,000 people found the condition was also linked to heart attacks.
They were found to be 60 per cent more at risk compared to other patients.