When you have arthritis, it may seem like "managing your health" is the same thing as "managing your arthritis." But other aspects of your health are important too.
For example, everyone—whether they have arthritis or not—should take measures to care for their heart. It's not as difficult as you may think.
Why care about heart health?
Research has shown that those who have a type of arthritis that causes inflammation throughout the body—like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or psoriatic arthritis—are at higher risk for cardiovascular problems. This includes heart disease, heart events like heart attack, and death from heart-related causes.
Several studies have linked RA to heart risks. One study also found that those with RA who had high blood pressure (hypertension), a precursor to heart disease, were less likely to be diagnosed than people without RA.1 Another study showed that those with psoriatic arthritis are also at higher heart risk: Over a 16-year period, they were 36% more likely to have a heart attack, compared with the control group.2
Experts are not sure why inflammatory arthritis affects heart health, but they suspect there are multiple factors playing a part—or there may be a root cause for both diseases connected with system-wide inflammation. Further study is needed to understand the connection.
Cut your heart risks with these 5 steps
If you have RA or psoriatic arthritis, being aware of your heart risks is the first step.The next step is to follow these measures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect your heart:
- Eat heart smart.
Avoid sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. And minimize sugar, which carries with it lots of extra calories. Instead, opt for a variety of fruits and vegetables—adults should aim for 5 servings a day.
A heart-healthy diet overlaps closely with an anti-inflammatory diet, which focuses on incorporating antioxidants into your diet.
- Get moving.
Not only is physical activity good for your joints, but it's essential to your heart health. Any activity that raises your heart rate several times a week can help. But despite the benefits, a survey revealed that 1 in 3 people with both arthritis and heart disease are inactive.3
If you struggle to stay motivated to exercise—or you're worried about which options are safe for you—consider some of these low impact options that are well suited for those with arthritis:
- Kick the tobacco habit.
Smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you're ready to quit smoking, ask your doctor for guidance or visit smokefree.gov.
- Know your numbers.
One of the best ways to know how your heart is doing is to keep an eye on your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers. If you haven't had them tested recently, ask your doctor about getting these tests.
- Take your medications.
Experts are still studying how the medications you take for your arthritis may affect your heart health, particularly the ones with anti-inflammatory properties. But if your arthritis is under control, this can only help your heart.
- "Impact of rheumatoid arthritis on receiving a diagnosis of hypertension among patients with regular primary care." Arthritis Care Res. 2014 Sep; 66(9):1281-8.
- "Risk of major cardiovascular events in patients with psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis: a population-based cohort study." Ann Rheum Dis. 2014 Oct 28. [Epub ahead of print]
- "Arthritis as a potential barrier to physical activity among adults with heart disease — United States, 2005 and 2007." MMWR 2009;58(7):165-169.