Cheers to all my fellow rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sojourners. February is Heart Health Month and with Valentine’s Day celebrated this week, I have hearts on my mind. Actually, my heart is regularly on my mind. Having RA puts me at greater risk for heart disease. This is most likely due to the inflammatory process of the disease.
Dr. Eric Matteson, chair of rheumatology at the Mayo Clinic, says people with severe RA are twice as likely to develop heart disease. The first year of being diagnosed with RA is a good time to address potential heart disease risks. This is not well known. The more active the RA, the greater the risk for heart disease.
Heart disease is the Number One killer of men and women in America. It is cause of premature death in more than 50 percent of people with RA. This is why the health of my heart is often on my mind. It is important for those of us with RA to understand this risk so we can make lifestyle decisions to help mitigate the risk. We will talk about that later.
Dr. Jon T. Giles, who is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Rheumatology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, says the heart disease in people with rheumatoid arthritis is more likely to be clinically silent. That is another reason I want to keep my heart on my mind.
Artherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, progresses faster in RA patients. Plaques, which are fatty deposits that can form and clog blood vessels in the heart and brain, have different characteristics in the person with RA as opposed to those that develop in the general population. “They are more unstable and prone to rupture, which is the event that leads to a heart attack” says Dr. Giles. He says the arteries of a person with RA may be “older” than their chronological age.
Here is the cheerful news! The increased risk of heart disease is the RA patient seems to disappear when the rheumatoid arthritis is well-controlled, according to Dr. Giles. That means modifying my lifestyle to give my body the best opportunity to manage the disease. This is in addition to my biologic. I will once again talk about my FRESH life story.
Before I get into the lifestyle changes I want to say STOP SMOKING if you are a smoker. That is a huge heart disease risk.
FRESH is the acronym I created to give me a quick reference for the 5 lifestyle changes I made that I believe have made a difference managing my RA.
The F is for food. I limit processed food, added sugars and added salt.
The R is for relaxation or stress reduction. I meditate, take walks and make time to relax.
The E is for exercise. I walk the dog and take a 50 minute pilates session each week.
The S is for sleep. I aim for six to eight hours of sleep each night. I often get more these days.
The H is for hydration. Divide your weight in pounds in half and that gives you the ounces of water you should aim to consume each day.
Keeping my heart on my mind is using Arthritis Wisdom! Knowing I am at increased risk of heart disease motivates me to make lifestyle changes to hopefully mitigate the heart disease risk my RA poses.
What are your suggestions for heart health? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment!
Take good care. XXOO Cathy