Arthritis and the Heart

Chloe JohnsonHealth Tip

This weeks health tip comes from Rheumatology Consultant Dr Tom Walton.


Most patients with arthritis are aware that the condition affects their joints but are not aware that having arthritis of any sort dramatically increases your risk of both heart disease and stroke.

This higher risk is most pronounced in young women with SLE who have a risk of heart attack approximately 50 times greater than other women of their age but is also seen in all rheumatological diseases as shown below

Condition                              Increased risk of Heart Disease

Rheumatoid Arthritis                    3 x

SLE                                                      50 x

Gout                                                   3 x

Osteoarthritis                                 1.5 x

Psoriatic Arthritis                           2 x

Ankylosing Spondylitis                 2 x


Why is there a greater risk of heart disease in rheumatic conditions?

The reasons for the increased risk are complex but it is well established that the traditional risk factors for heart disease ie being overweight, inactivity, high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol and more common in patients with arthritis. Smoking is also a risk factor for both various sorts of arthritis and heart disease.

In addition most sorts of arthritis are associated with increased levels of inflammation even osteoarthritis which has traditionally been associated with wear and tear of the joints. Chronic inflammation by itself is associated with a higher risk of both heart disease and stroke,

What can you do to help reduce your risk

Some risk factors for example your age and sex can not be altered but there is a lot you can do to help reduce your risk of damage to the arteries in your heart and brain.


Controlling your underlying disease for example with Allopurinol in gout or Methotrexate in Rheumatoid Arthritis can  help to reduce your risk.

A good diet rich in fish and vegetables (the so called Mediterranean diet) and rich in monounsaturated fats such as seen in Olive oil is good for your heart and may even have some anti-inflammatory effect on your joints.

Stopping smoking is essential and will help both your heart and your joints.

Weight reduction is another measure that has dual benefit and adds to a sense of well being. People who carry weight around their middle (apple shaped)  as compared to round their hips (pear shaped) tend to have an even higher risk.

It is important that your GP checks both your blood pressure (ideally this should be below about 140/90) and our blood cholesterol on a yearly basis, more often if either of these are raised.

Being inactive doubles your risk of a heart attack and whilst weight-bearing exercise can be difficult if you have arthritis, walking , gardening, swimming and cycling all ways to help improve your fitness and lose weight.

Above all choose an exercise you enjoy or you won’t stick at it.

In summary it is important to be aware of the fact that heart disease and stroke are both more common in rheumatic disease but you can actively reduce your risk through both lifestyle and drug treatment.


If you would like to book an appointment with our Rheumatology consultant just call our friendly team on 01245 474070 or e-mail