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Rheumatoid Arthritis May Raise Risk of Blood Vessel Plaque
Date:11/8/2010

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

SUNDAY, Nov. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis may damage more than the joints, new research suggests.

The autoimmune disorder may also increase the risk of atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels, potentially increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease, researchers say.

The good news from the study is that certain drugs already used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis appear to lessen the risk of plaque buildup.

"Cardiovascular risk is higher in people with rheumatoid arthritis, but this is not a done deal," said study lead author Dr. Jon T. Giles, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

"There is some suggestion that inflammatory risk factors [such as those from rheumatoid arthritis] really only make a difference in people who have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease [such as obesity or a sedentary lifestyle], so it's important to control your traditional cardiovascular risk factors," Giles said.

The study results were scheduled to be presented Sunday at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in Atlanta.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease caused by inflammation in the lining of the joints. It can lead to significant, chronic joint pain, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The exact cause of the disease is unknown, but the immune system is believed to play a key role in its development. Instead of concentrating its fighting capabilities on foreign invaders, such as bacteria, the immune system in people with rheumatoid arthritis appears to turn against the healthy tissue that lines the area between joints, damaging or destroying it.

In the current study, researchers conducted two ultrasound exams of the carotid arteries in 158 people with rheumatoid arthritis. The f
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