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Starting drug treatment early in rheumatoid arthritis patients may reduce their risk of heart disease, a new study suggests.
Rheumatoid arthritis at least doubles the risk of heart disease due to its links with atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries), heart failure, and stroke.
The new U.K. study found a link between early rheumatoid arthritis treatment and improvements in vascular stiffness (a gradual loss of elasticity that's an early sign of heart disease).
"Our research shows that even at the earliest stages of rheumatoid arthritis, there is increased vascular stiffness in people with no or minimal traditional CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk factors, such as hypertension, high cholesterol or smoking," study co-leader Sven Plein, a professor of cardiology, said in a University of Leeds news release.
The research highlights the importance of starting rheumatoid arthritis treatment early in order to also lessen the risk of developing heart disease, Plein said.
The study included 82 rheumatoid arthritis patients with no known heart problems who underwent MRI heart scans. The scans revealed that they had increased vascular stiffness in the aorta compared to people without rheumatoid arthritis.