People with rheumatoid arthritis are significantly more vulnerable to a heart attack within 12 months of diagnosis, experts have discovered.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden conducted a survey of more than 40,000 people, and found that those with rheumatoid arthritis have a 60% higher chance of a heart attack one to four years after being diagnosed. The figure is compared with heart attack rates among the general population.
Previous research indicated the disease increases the risk of a heart attack, but the research team in Sweden now believe this may happen sooner than previously thought.
The risk remains at an increased level for at least 12 years, according to the study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine.
Lead author Marie Holmqvist said: “Our findings emphasise the importance of monitoring a patient’s heart risk from the moment they are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, as the risk rises rapidly in the first few years.”
In conclusion, the authors added: “We have found that the increased risk of (heart attack) is evident earlier in the course of rheumatoid arthritis disease than previously thought.”
They said that whatever the cause, the increased risk of heart attack and other problems linked to heart disease “is a clinical concern that should serve to highlight the importance of intervention”.