Patients with rheumatic disease have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, a new report published in Rheumatology suggests that regular exercise can reduce the risks associated with vascular dysfunctions.
Rheumatic diseases are a result of an imbalanced immune system that can lead to the production of antibodies that work against the subject’s cells, especially in the joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. There is currently no cure for the diseases, but they can be controlled with anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressants, and biologics.
For rheumatoid disease patients, the risk of developing atherosclerosis is higher compared to those who do not have the immune disease. Atherosclerosis is a narrowing of the arteries as cholesterol plaque builds up, leading to the obstruction of blood flow. As a result, rheumatoid disease patients are more likely to suffer from heart attacks and other cardiovascular disorders.
The report included information from researchers working in Brazil and the United Kingdom who analyzed the results of a systematic review of scientific literature. Overall, they covered ten studies involving 355 volunteers with various diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and spondylarthritis (inflammation of the spine). All participants were enrolled in 12-week exercise programs involving walking in the park or on a treadmill, stationary cycling, high-intensity interval training, and muscle training.
“Our analysis of the results showed that exercise improved small and large vessel endothelial function to a clinically significant extent. Accordingly, we suggested that exercise can be considered ‘medication’ for these patients because of its potential to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events,” said Tiago Peçanha, first author of the article.
Researchers noted that atherosclerosis develops quickly in rheumatoid disease patients due to the chronic inflammation associated with the condition and continuous use of anti-inflammatory drugs. Small changes start in the blood vessel structure and function for these patients, then the arteries gradually harden, preventing them from dilating when necessary.
This new review was able to show that exercise can improve small and large vessel vascular function in patients with autoimmune rheumatic diseases. However, this study did have limitations and cannot provide enough evidence to suggest that exercise also promotes a structural recovery of damaged arteries.
Physical activity and the effects on those with rheumatoid diseases are still new, so more research is needed to identify the best protocols and investigate safety and adherence among the population. However, this is the first step in recording the importance of regular exercise to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease in these patients.