Depression Increases Heart Risk in Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients

Medically reviewed in September 2021

If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), your swollen, painful joints probably demand your full attention. But here are two other body parts that also need special care: your heart and your mind.
 
Why? People with RA have an increased risk of heart attacks. Though you may not feel it, RA causes inflammation throughout your body. That can damage your arteries and lead to a heart attack (or a stroke).
 
And research shows that the toll RA takes on your mental health can hike that risk even more.
 
A study from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons looked at 195 RA patients who had no history of heart problems and compared them to more than 1,000 adults who didn’t have arthritis. Not surprisingly, the participants with RA had more symptoms of depression and higher stress levels -- both from work stressors and personal stress from health issues.
 
These increased levels of depression, anxiety and stress in the RA group were associated with higher levels of calcium buildup in the coronary arteries, while the group without RA showed no connection between mental health factors and calcium in arteries.
 
So here’s your heart- and mind-protection plan:
 
1.  Start a heart-healthy lifestyle. Stay physically active and eat a heart smart diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats -- those in olive oil, nuts and fish. And if you’re overweight, start cutting the pounds by decreasing your portions.
 
2. Watch for signs of depression. These include a depressed feeling or mood more often than not, a decreased interest in activities you used to enjoy, weight loss or gain, change in sleeping patterns and appetite, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, fatigue and a loss of concentration.
 
 
3. Reduce your stress levels. Try deep breathing exercises, go for a walk, exercise regularly, practice yoga and talk to your support network to air out your problems. 

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