Living with arthritis can make everyday a challenge. This condition predominantly affects the joints, which can make certain movements extremely painful. But, this debilitating condition can also affect other parts of the body, and it’s important to be aware of these risks to give yourself the best chance of looking after your long-term health.
In particular, inflammatory types of arthritis, such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), leave sufferers at greater risk of developing heart disease. In fact, research suggests that people living with RA are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack. But what is the reasoning behind this link, and what can you do to reduce your chances of suffering from further health complications as a result of your arthritis?
Contributing Factors of RA and Heart Disease
There are many different contributing factors explaining the link between these two conditions. Firstly, rheumatic diseases (those that cause inflammation in joints and muscles) share common risk factors with heart disease, including high cholesterol and obesity. When living with arthritis, these factors can become magnified. Not only can arthritis make it more difficult to complete regular exercise, but any excess weight can put added pressure on the joints, whilst also leaving your heart more vulnerable to disease.
Though red flags for heart disease, RA can increase the likelihood of someone gaining weight if they cannot properly find methods of exercising. Some exercise routines, however, are designed to help those even with arthritis pain.
Chronic Inflammation’s Role in Heart Disease
Though other health complications or risk factors like obesity are intrinsically linked with both conditions, the most important factor at play is the role of chronic inflammation. Inflammation of the joints can unfortunately spread throughout the body, affecting other tissues and organs.
Inflammation Increases Risks for Heart Diseases
As this inflammation damages blood vessels, it becomes easier for plaque to form which can leave you at higher risk of blood clots or blocked arteries. This, in turn, can result in any number of serious health complications including a stroke, heart attack, and pulmonary embolism.
Steroids Increase Risks for Heart Disease
Studies have shown, however, that inflammation may not be the only connection. Reducing inflammation showed improvement in heart health risk factors on those studied, but arthritic treatments, such as the use of steroids, increased the risk for heart-related illness.
How Can You Reduce the Risks?
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help manage your arthritis and reduce the risk of developing heart disease, as a result. Simple changes to your lifestyle can go a long way to helping keep your body healthy.
Firstly, regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do to keep your joints, heart and body in good shape. Whilst high-intensity exercises can cause further damage to your joints, low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, and steady rowing can simultaneously help to ease joint pain, whilst helping to improve your heart’s health, too.
Alongside a consistent exercise regime, it’s crucial that you’re putting the right food and drinks into your body. For instance, foods that are high in cholesterol, such as processed meats and cheese, will put your heart under additional strain, and should only be consumed in moderation. But when living with certain types of arthritis, there are other dietary considerations that can help to manage your condition.
For example, gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that’s caused by having too much uric acid in the bloodstream. Uric acid is formed when purines in the body break down. Certain foods have a higher purine content, including red meats, some seafood and organ meats. These should be avoided where possible when living with gout, and replaced with low-purine alternatives such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet can go a long way to assist in both reducing your arthritic symptoms and improve your heart health. Those with arthritis should gauge what they consume carefully. Some helpful tips on what foods improve and what foods worsen arthritis symptoms can be found here.
Keep Your Joints and Heart Happy
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent arthritis or even heart disease altogether, but there are a lot of ways you can reduce the risk of developing them or to prevent them from increasing in severity. Make simple lifestyle changes to improve your health, and if you are concerned, seek the advice of a medical professional sooner rather than later.
Kelly Peterson is a content writer and researcher. For three years, Kelly has been writing with great passion. Her areas of interest include health, lifestyle, travel, and anything that she comes across in her daily life. She finds inspiration for her writing through her personal experiences and the people she surrounds herself with, such as family members and friends.
Healthy lifestyle changes can help you avoid medications and their side effects. To avoid unnecessary risks, MedShadow Foundation brings you research-based, unbiased wellness content to provide you with alternatives to help you, and those you love, reduce or eliminate your need for medications. All of our work is done free from pharmaceutical influence or funding.