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How is heart disease related to rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?

Angela Spires
Administration Specialist

In addition to problems with joints, rheumatoid arthritis can have multiple related conditions, such as heart disease, skin or lung problems. It's especially important to monitor heart health in any patient with a known history of rheumatoid arthritis. To determine if a patient has a heart disease related to rheumatoid arthritis, a doctor may first confirm the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis through imaging studies and blood tests. The doctor will also do a physical exam, checking for symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath or unusual swelling in the legs. As heart disease with rheumatoid arthritis can take many forms, starting with a simple chest x-ray and EKG may be appropriate. Blood tests can also help determine if the heart is experiencing stress or not functioning properly. An echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, may also be helpful. If the patient has fluid surrounding the heart, a sample may be aspirated.

People who have certain autoimmune disorders such as lupus, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis are at increased risk for the development heart disease. People who have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and certain other autoimmune disorders often have a systemic inflammation. Heart disease is due to an inflammation of the lining of the blood vessels of the heart. When someone presents with an acute heart attack, it's usually due to inflammation of these blood vessels and patients with autoimmune disease often have inflammation of the heart’s blood vessels also.

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Rheumatoid arthritis generally does not cause heart disease. It is often confused with Rheumatic Fever or chronic Rheumatic Heart Disease. The former is an autoimmune disease which causes primarily painful and disfiguring joint destruction. The latter is heart disease caused by the early or late manifestations of a Streptococcal infection. Rheumatoid arthritis may occasionally cause problems in other organ systems. From a cardiac standpoint, there may occasionally be mild or moderate inflammation of the pericardium (the membranous sac surrounding the heart), called pericarditis. Pericarditis can cause chest pain, usually easily treated with medications. Rarely pericarditis can cause an effusion, or fluid buildup, within the pericardium that can require drainage.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.