It pays to be happy. New research regarding patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) shows that non-happy symptoms like anger, worry, sadness and depression could raise the risk of atherosclerosis – a condition where fatty deposits accumulate in the walls of the arteries and lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Based on these findings, the authors of the study recommend screening for and treatment of psycho-social symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis patients, to reduce the risk of CVD.
According to CDC statistics, 1.5 million Americans suffer from RA – an autoimmune disease that is characterized by fatigue, pain, swelling and stiffness in the smaller joints.
Previous studies have shown the increased prevalence of CVD in RA patients, but the reasons for the increased risk were not cited.
According to the lead researcher of the study, knowing what causes the increased death rates in people suffering with long-term conditions like RA is crucial. The current study is a pioneering effort to investigate the link between psychological diseases and the increased risk of atherosclerosis in RA patients.
The study used information from the Evaluation of Subclinical Cardiovascular Disease and Predictors of Events (ESCAPE) in rheumatoid arthritis patients. In the study the researchers analyzed the prevalence, progression and risk factors for cardiovascular disease in RA. The participants in the study included 195 patients diagnosed with RA and 1,073 controls without RA. To determine the extent of atherosclerosis in them, both the control and the test participants had to go through CT and ultrasound scans to measure their coronary artery calcium (CAC) levels and the lumens of their carotid arteries.
The results of the study show that higher levels of those non-happy symptoms were associated with increased risk of CAC in patients with RA. In fact, the CAC levels were greater than 100 units which indicates moderate to severe disease. Even after taking into consideration the effect of inflammation and other CVD causes, the risk in patients with RA was more than the risk in people without RA.
The team also found that job stress played a huge role in increasing carotid plaque in RA patients. On the flip side, the lumen (inner surface) of carotid arteries was reduced in those RA patients who had adequate social support.
According to Dr. Ying Liu, the lead author of the study, the results prove that depression, stress, anxiety and anger are linked to atherosclerosis markers, which are known predictors of cardiovascular risk in RA patients. The results stress the importance of screening and treating heart disease risks factors to reduce the risk of mortality in RA patients.