Depression ups heart risk in RA patients

(13/08/2015) People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are more likely to experience hardening of the arteries – a major risk factor for heart disease – if they are anxious, stressed or depressed, a new study has found.

According to the findings, a lack of social support can also increase the risk.

RA is a chronic and often painful condition that affects the joints, causing them to become inflamed. Around 40,000 people in Ireland are affected, with most developing the condition between the ages of 25 and 50.

Previous studies have already found that those with RA are more likely to have cardiovascular disease, however the reasons for this are unclear. According to US researchers, this is the first study ‘to investigate the association between psychosocial comorbidities and elevated risk of atherosclerosis in RA patients’.

They looked at over 1,250 people, almost 200 of whom had RA.

The participants underwent ultrasounds and CT scans to measure levels of coronary artery calcium (CAC) and the thickness of carotid arteries. This determines a person’s level of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

The study found that those with RA who had higher levels of anxiety, stress and depressive symptoms were more likely to have moderate to severe atherosclerosis.

Higher levels of anger also appeared to increase the risk.

However, those with RA who had increased social support appeared to have lower levels of atherosclerosis.

“Our study shows that depression, stress, anxiety, and anger are associated with atherosclerosis markers, which are known predictors of cardiovascular risk in RA. These findings highlight the importance of screening and treatment of heart disease risks factors to limit not only healthcare costs, but prevent morbidity and mortality for RA patients,” the researchers commented.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Arthritis Care & Research.

For more information on RA, see our Rheumatoid Arthritis Clinic here


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