Top heart health tips

Blog by Victoria Butler

Sadly, heart disease accounts for around a third of the deaths in people with RA and heart disease occurs 10 years earlier on average in RA patients than in the general population. Added to this, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has found that after having a heart attack, people with autoimmune conditions such as RA are more likely to die or experience further serious heart problems.

This obviously makes for scary reading to anyone living with RA, but there is cause for hope. With the advent of earlier diagnosis and new treatments, recent data suggests an increase in lifespans of RA patients and, in particular, newly diagnosed individuals may have equivalent lifespans to the general population.

It is also important to remember that you have a significant amount of control over your cardiovascular risks. You cannot alter the fact that you have RA, but you can reduce other potential risk factors. Here are some of the best ways to keep your heart healthy:

  1. RA medication – Getting your RA under good control will help to reduce cardiovascular risks as well, so make sure you continue to take your RA medication at the correct times and, if you feel it is not working as well as it should, make sure that you discuss this with your rheumatology team.
  2. Stop smoking – If you don’t smoke, you are already greatly reducing your risk of heart problems, but if you do smoke, stopping is one of the best ways you can look after your heart and improve your RA. Smoking can increase the severity of your RA and can make your medications less effective, as well as greatly increasing your risk of heart disease and cancer.
  3. Eat healthily – Eating healthily can reduce cholesterol levels and help you to maintain a good weight level, both of which can help you to keep your heart healthy.
  4. Exercise – Exercise can be difficult when you have a long term condition, and many worry that it will increase symptoms such as pain and fatigue. In fact, the opposite is often the case and regular exercise can have many health benefits, including a healthier heart and better management of RA symptoms.
  5. Keep alcohol intake to within recommended levels – High alcohol intake can increase blood pressure levels and contribute to weight gain, both of which can impact on your heart.
  6. Manage your cholesterol – Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood, caused by, among other factors, poor diet and a lack of exercise. It can cause blockages in blood vessels, making you more susceptible to heart attack or stroke. If you are unsure what your cholesterol level is, ask your GP about getting tested.
  7. Manage your blood pressure level – High blood pressure occurs when blood vessels are damaged or narrowed, causing the heart to have to work harder to pump blood around your body. You can monitor your blood pressure levels from home and in some cases, a doctor may recommend taking medication to keep blood pressure within normal ranges.
  8. Don’t feel you have to do this alone – There are many organisations that can help you to lose weight, lower cholesterol, stop smoking and get into a regular exercise regime. You can also get lots more tips for keeping your heart healthy from The British Heart Foundation. But perhaps the first step is to speak to your GP, who will help you to understand your current level of CV risk, based on the above risk factors and others, such as age and family history.

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