FRIDAY, May 6 (HealthDay News) -- People with two common
inflammatory diseases stand a higher chance of developing a heart
condition that is strongly associated with stroke, a new study
The study, done at the University of Arkansas for Medical
Sciences, found that patients with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
have a 60 percent increased risk for atrial fibrillation, an
abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) linked to stroke.
Pointing to a recent jump in atrial fibrillation cases, one of
the study's authors said it was important to understand all the
possible sources of the disease.
"We are in the middle of an epidemic of AF (atrial fibrillation)," said Dr. Abhishek Deshmukh, a cardiology fellow at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center in Little Rock and one of the study's authors. "The numbers have gone sky high as people are living longer. AF tends to affect older people more."
About 2.2 million Americans have atrial fibrillation, according
to the American Heart Association. The condition causes the heart
to beat erratically and fail to pump all the blood out of the
atria, two upper heart chambers. Because the blood pools, it may
produce clots, which the heart "throws" from the chamber; the clots
may then lodge in an artery in the brain, causing a stroke. About
15 percent of strokes occur this way, according to the
Deshmukh said researchers suspected that atrial fibrillation
might be linked to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and
rheumatoid arthritis because the two autoimmune conditions cause
inflammation, which scientists believe plays a role in heart
disease. Almost 3 million Americans have one of the two diseases,
according to the Arthritis Foundation and the Lupus Foundation of
Atrial fibrillation undermines people's quality of life and
increases the risk of dying, said Deshmukh, adding that it is
associated with congestive heart failure, diabetes, and high blood
Signs of atrial fibrillation include fluttering of the heart,
dizziness, sweating, fatigue, confusion, weakness, shortness of
breath and anxiety, although some patients display no symptoms.
Many drugs are used to treat it, including the anticoagulant
warfarin, which can reduce the risk of death by 68 percent for
those with the illness, according to the heart association.
The study findings were slated to be presented Friday in San
Francisco at the Heart Rhythm Society meeting.
The study, taking information from a large national database,
looked at 416,786 patients older than 65, who were discharged from
1,200 hospitals around the United States after treatment for atrial
fibrillation. The study controlled for factors such as age, sex,
demographic information, and other illnesses.
In an initial analysis, 2.73 percent of patients with rheumatoid
arthritis or lupus were found to have atrial fibrillation, compared
to 1.7 percent for those unaffected by either condition.
After adjusting for confounding factors, the researchers found
frequency of the heart arrhythmia was 1.6 times higher in patients
diagnosed with one of the autoimmune conditions, an increased risk
of 60 percent.
While the study found an association between the two diseases
and the heart condition, it did not prove a cause-and-effect. And
because it was presented at a medical meeting, its findings should
be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed
Both lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are genetically based but
are believed to have environmental triggers, according to Dr.
Olivia Ghaw, a rheumatologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New
York City. Women are far more likely to be affected, with estrogen
playing a possible role, but no definitive answers have been found,
Ghaw said that because the two autoimmune diseases "are
systemic," potentially involving almost any organ in the body, it
makes sense they could play a role in heart disease. She advised
those affected to pay close attention to their health.
"Patients really need to be in touch with their physician so they can be screened and watch out for these other things (heart problems)," said Ghaw.
While both conditions' symptoms include painfully inflamed
joints and possibly fever, lupus also causes skin rashes. Onset of
lupus often occurs in late teens or early adulthood, but rheumatoid
arthritis tends to start later, between the ages of 30 and 50,
according to the Arthritis Foundation. A distinct but linked form
of rheumatoid arthritis affects children.
Those with rheumatoid arthritis usually have a normal lifespan,
but lupus can shorten people's lives because it often affects
kidney function and other important organs, said Ghaw.
To learn more about atrial fibrillation, visit the
American Heart Association.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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