Arthritis Pain May Strain Your Heart!

The chronic disease rheumatoid arthritis can cause painful stiffness and swelling in your joints. Now, new research shows that your stiff joints could lead to a stiff heart!

Research presented at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Annual Scientific Meeting showed that a condition called diastolic dysfunction appears to be more common in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This problem causes the four chambers of your heart—the ventricles—to become stiff. When these chambers are not properly filled with blood—it can eventually cause heart failure.

According to an ACR statement, researchers at the University of Pittsburg in Pennsylvania compared the frequency of this heart condition in 149 people with RA and 1,405 people without the joint disease—none of which had a history of heart failure.

The researchers found that diastolic dysfunction occurred in 38.9 percent of patients with RA. Only 28.8 percent of the non-RA group had the heart ailment.

They also found that patients in the RA group had higher blood pressure in the lungs and the right side of the heart.

An estimated 1.3 million Americans have RA, and the disease typically affects women twice as often as men. According to a Mayo Clinic study, RA incidents increased from 36 per 100,000 women to 54 per 100,000 between 1995 and 2005.

Lead study author Kimberly Liang, M.D., assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said the new findings suggests the use of echocardiograms in RA patients “could reveal heart abnormalities before they are detected clinically.” She said that such early detection could improve long-term patient outcomes.