Problems such as anxiety and depression may partly explain why people with rheumatoid arthritis have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a new study. It found that anger, anxiety, depressive symptoms, job stress, and low social support were linked to a higher risk of hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
In this study, Jon T. Giles and his colleagues at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York compared 195 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and no history of heart problems to more than 1,000 similar adults without arthritis. The people with rheumatoid arthritis had more depressive symptoms, higher personal health stress, higher job stress, and lower relationship stress compared to the non-arthritis group. Rheumatoid arthritis patients tended to have less anger than the comparison group.
Higher anxiety scores, anger scores, more symptoms of depression, and stress due to caring for a loved one were associated with increased odds of calcium in the coronary arteries in the rheumatoid arthritis group, but not in the comparison group.
For people with rheumatoid arthritis, job stress also increased the risk of plaque in the carotid artery that helps supply blood to the brain.
Unlike osteoarthritis, which is usually caused by wear and tear on joints, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic degenerative disease of the joints in which the body's immune system starts to attack the joints. It causes swelling and pain and destroys the tissues lining the inside of the joints. Eventually, the bones erode and the joints start to deform. Osteoarthritis tends to affect the large joints in the body, such as the hips and knees. Rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the small joints in the hands and feet. It is more common in women than in men.
People with rheumatoid arthritis tend to have increased inflammation in other parts of their bodies.