Marie Gunnarsson, a graduate student at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweeden presented results of a research study this week at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting in San Francisco. The focus of the study was the relationship between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and the risk of a heart attack.
Actually, she wanted to delve further into the issue than that. Previous studies have demonstrated the RA increases the risk of heart attack. Her question was how quickly does the risk increase.
For her analysis, Ms. Gunnarsson used data from 7,954 Swedish patients who had been newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and matched them with 38,913 people without RA as controls. Both groups were followed for 10 years and data was collected on heart attacks, heart related deaths and deaths from other causes.
What she found was that before their diagnosis, RA patients did not have a higher risk of hear attack. After the diagnosis, however, the heart attack risk rose steadily.
During the 10 year period after being diagnosed, the RA patients suffered nearly twice as many heart attacks and heart attack deaths as the controls. This was even after adjusting the data for high blood pressure and diabetes.
Said Ms. Gunnarsson, “The fact that there is no increased risk prior to RA diagnosis suggests that there is something in the RA disease itself, such as inflammatory processes, that lead to this increased risk.”