Heart disease-related deaths among Americans with rheumatoid arthritis are on the decline, according to a new study.
Rheumatoid arthritis patients are two times more likely than the average person to develop heart disease, but the new research finds that efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat heart disease at an early stage in these patients are paying off.
Mayo Clinic researchers analyzed heart disease deaths within 10 years of rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis for two groups of people. The first group included 315 people diagnosed between 2000 and 2007. The second group included 498 people diagnosed in the 1980s and 1990s. About two-thirds of the patients were women and their average age was 60.
Between 2000 and 2007, 2.8 percent died of heart disease, compared to 7.9 percent in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the findings, which are to be presented Sunday at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting, in San Francisco.
Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The rate of death from one specific type of heart disease — coronary artery disease — was 1.2 percent among those diagnosed between 2000 and 2007, compared to 4.7 percent among those diagnosed in earlier decades.
More research will be needed to explain the declines. Study lead author and rheumatologist Dr. Elena Myasoedova said in a Mayo Clinic news release that potential factors include “earlier and more vigilant screening for heart problems, improved treatment for heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis, and in general, more attention to heart health in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.”
Other Mayo Clinic studies being presented at the meeting found that, compared to people in the general population, rheumatoid arthritis patients have less diversity of gut bacteria and much higher levels of certain types of gut bacteria, as well as much higher use of narcotic pain medicines, regardless of disease severity.
The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about rheumatoid arthritis.