Rheumatoid arthritis is a tough thing to type when you’ve got it, hence RA. And when you’re diagnosed with RA that’s not the only bad news you’re getting, but don’t get all weak-hearted on me. That would only add to the problems.
RA is an inflammatory painful form of arthritis that affects your joints, and if you’re not careful, can double your risk of heart disease. A 2015 study suggests ways to minimize the risk.
Have A Heart
The study published in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology posits that people newly diagnosed with RA who took methotrexates (Rheumatrex, Trexall) as prescribed had no greater risk of dying from heart disease than the general population.
The study followed 15,000 people diagnosed with RA between 2000 and 2007 in Finland. People in the study who were on glucocorticoids – aka steroids – did have a higher risk of heart disease. Same with those with a type of RA called rheumatoid factor-positive (RF-positive).
The Finnish study showed that those who were newly diagnosed with RA, who took methotrexates fared the best. Studies have gone back and forth about RA and its link to heart health, but this new study offers hope by offering more than just the proper medication.
Reduce The Risk
Jared Bunch, MD, director of heart-rhythm research at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray, Utah suggests the Finnish study “highlights the importance of treatment”. For a long time “treatment” meant steroids, but steroids put people at risk of other problems. Namely obesity, bone loss, and diabetes.
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Steroids are the go-to RA treatment because they reduce inflammation very quickly. But methotrexate is a better long-term medication, suggests Bunch, because it lowers the risk of heart disease.
Lowering the risk of heart disease is just “another reason to move people off steroids, if possible, as soon as possible,” Bunch says. His belief is shared by Susan Goodman, MD and assoc. director of the Inflammatory Arthritis Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC.
“Disease-modifying drugs such as methotrexate or TNF-inhibitors, which alter the natural progression of the disease, can directly decrease the body’s inflammatory burden,” says Dr. Goodman.
While the doctors agree that the sooner RA treatments begins, the better the treatments will fare and remission will come more easily and quickly, it seems that methotrexates aren’t going to necessarily solve the problem at hand.
Other research continues to show that RA gives an overall increased risk of heart disease. For instance, nearly 10,000 women with RA were followed and it was found that they had a 1.5 to 2.5 increased risk of contracting some form of heart disease.
The bottom line of the new Finnish study is “early use and consistent use of disease-modifying medications normalize the cardiac risk,” says Goodman. But this is The Heart Soul, so we want to research holistic health practices and how they relate to keeping your heart and your whole body safe and healthy.
Lose excess weight
A lower BMI helps with inflammatory problems, including arthritis. A BMI of 25 is termed overweight, but that’s not what to focus on; focus on just achieving as healthy a weight for you as possible. Exercise and eating right are the best places to start.
Focus on fruits, vegetables, and natural, whole foods. These foods give natural minerals and vitamins your body wants and needs. Organic is best.
“Smoking is a huge problem for RA,” says Goodman, because it causes inflammation. Inflammation is always unnecessary, so quit doing the things that cause it, and you’ll help fight problems associated with RA and heart health.
Watch your cholesterol
Talk to your doctor about the best cholesterol levels for you. Get their advice on the best foods, supplements, and how to achieve and – more importantly – maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Monitor blood sugar levels
This helps you avoid diabetes, which raises your risk of heart disease as well. I’m a type 1 diabetic and I get my hemoglobin a1c done every time I see my doctor. This is a measure of blood sugar levels over the past 3 months. If you monitor your blood sugar levels, you’ll be able to adapt your diet and lifestyle before you develop diabetes.
See the signs
Watch for the warning signs of heart disease but also be aware that cardiac problems are sometimes silent. This makes the top 5 tips – like monitoring your cholesterol and quitting smoking – even more important.
Remember, a happy heart is a happy life. To keep your heart – and clock – ticking, monitor the signs and talk to your doctor honestly and openly about problems you may be having. Catching the signs and getting on a non-steroidal treatment as early could be the difference between easing arthritis and developing heart disease.
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