Have Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus? Watch Your Heart

The immune system uses inflammation to fight bacteria and viruses, repair damaged tissue, and protect the body in other ways. With the autoimmune diseases rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and lupus, the body’s immune system turns against itself. This leads to chronic inflammation in many parts of the body. RA mainly affects the joints, while lupus attacks the joints, skin, lungs, blood vessels, heart, liver, kidneys and nervous system. About four million Americans, most of them women, have one of these conditions.

RA and lupus are linked to heart problems, particularly early-onset heart disease. In fact, research suggests that people with inflammatory disorders are more likely to have silent heart attacks. RA and lupus can also cause inflammation of the heart sac (pericarditis) and lupus can cause inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis).

If you have RA or lupus, it is important to understand your heart disease risks. To live a heart-healthy lifestyle, be proactive and talk to your health care provider regarding your heart risk.