A new study says rheumatoid arthritis is associated with other diseases like diabetes and heart disease, irritable bowel disease (IBD), sleep apnea and blood clots.
Rheumatoid arthritis, often known as RA, is a disease of the joints that is characterized by pain and inflammation. About 1.5 million Americans have RA, and women are three times more likely to develop the condition than men.
RA can cause many symptoms unrelated to the joints such as fatigue, weight loss and fever, and it can lead to many complications throughout the body.
A study by the Mayo Clinic found people who already had chronic diseases like Type 1 diabetes, blood clots or inflammatory bowel disease may be more likely to develop RA. The study also found patients with RA are more susceptible to developing blood clots, heart disease and sleep apnea.
Vanessa Kronzer, M.D., a rheumatology clinician investigator fellow at Mayo Clinic, was the corresponding author of the study. She said chronic health issues “accumulate in an accelerated fashion after diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.” Autoimmune diseases and epilepsy can make individuals more prone to RA, and RA could be a precursor to heart disease and other systemic disorders.
One of the most significant findings of the study was that there was a strong correlation between patients with Type 1 diabetes developing RA. This could help doctors be vigilant in looking for signs of RA in patients with autoimmune disorders. Blood clots were also common in RA cases before diagnosis. This leads researchers to conclude systemic inflammation might begin before RA symptoms manifest.
“Our findings suggest that people with certain conditions, such as Type 1 diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease, should be carefully monitored for rheumatoid arthritis,” Dr. Kronzer explained. “In addition, people who have rheumatoid arthritis, and their health care providers, should have heightened suspicion and a low threshold to screen for cardiovascular disease, blood clots and sleep apnea.”
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Call your doctor if you develop warning signs of rheumatoid arthritis. These may include:
- Joint pain, swelling, stiffness or tenderness for six weeks or longer
- Morning stiffness in the joints for 30 minutes or longer
- Pain and stiffness in corresponding joints (right and left hands, right and left wrists, etc.)
Undiagnosed RA increases the risk for other chronic diseases, so make an appointment with your doctor if you are experiencing joint problems. Early diagnosis of RA will lead to quick intervention and can prevent other chronic illnesses.