There’s a link between rheumatic and heart diseases. While not treating rheumatic problems can lead to heart problems, chronic inflammatory or autoimmune disorders help to reduce the risk of having to deal with cardiovascular disease. The thickening of blood vessel walls that underlies atherosclerosis, for example, comes from inflammation. Prof. Carlo Selmi, head of Rheumatology at the Humanitas Clinical Institute, explained why the same substances that cause chronic inflammation in rheumatological diseases are also mediators of cardiovascular health.
The inflammation at the root of everything
“All chronic inflammatory diseases are characterized by an increased risk of heart disease,” began the specialist, speaking of a risk that increases by 50% compared to the general population, similar almost to that of those who suffer from diabetes. That’s why not underestimating the problem, when we are faced with chronic inflammatory diseases, can be even more important”.
“The risk – continued Selmi – is particularly linked to a more severe and rapid atherosclerosis. This thickening of the walls of blood vessels, which is the basis of atherosclerosis, comes, in fact, from inflammation. So the same substances that cause chronic inflammation in rheumatological diseases, such as cytokines IL6 and TNFalfa, are also mediators of cardiovascular health”.
The importance of timing
When it comes to treatment, the time factor is fundamental, as always. “Damage to the heart and arteries, especially to the cells inside the vessels, starts to develop shortly after the onset of the disease, but after a certain period you begin to observe the obvious effects,” said Prof. Selmi, focusing on the importance to follow scrupulously a therapy that allows you to control rheumatic diseases.
The classic risk factors such as overweight, high blood pressure and cholesterol should also be kept under control. The latter levels are often high in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, also as a result of certain therapies. The use of statins can be useful and is generally safe in these patients, according to a study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology.
Finally, particular attention should be paid to the lifestyle. Smoking is categorically forbidden. A healthy diet is mandatory, since overweight also has a negative effect on the response to immunosuppressive therapies, and exercise, strongly recommended to help the heart of those suffering from rheumatic diseases.