If you have an autoimmune disease, your risk of heart disease automatically goes up. From the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM), in a study of almost one million people, researchers are providing conclusive evidence for people who need to pay extra close attention to their cardiovascular health.
The IMIM study took place over six years, following a cohort of participants all between the ages of 35 and 85 and with no known history of heart disease. The goal was to calculate the risk of heart disease and overall mortality for people with autoimmune diseases, mainly rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
"We wanted to determine whether the risk of suffering a coronary heart disease, stroke, or overall mortality was increased in people suffering autoimmune inflammatory diseases,” explained principal investigator Maria Grau.
With the study being as large as it was, Grau and her team also hoped to connect and calculate each individual disease with the incidence of specific pathologies.
The study results showed that systemic disorders of connective tissue (SLE, RA) were associated with greater risk of both heart disease and overall mortality than inflammatory bowel diseases. However, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis were nonetheless linked to an increased risk of stroke and mortality.
Grau says the unfortunate connection is due to the “interaction of inflammation, metabolic factors, therapy, and disease-related factors.”
The new discovery isn’t all doom and gloom. The results bring to light potential new tools for predicting cardiovascular events. Grau suggests using autoimmune and inflammatory disease activity biomarkers as a way to anticipate the onset of adverse cardiac events such as heart attack or stroke. This approach could reduce the incidence or at least the severity of such events by shortening the time a person receives treatment.
Factors that increase the risk of heart disease independently of autoimmune disease include diet and exercise habits, family history of disease, smoking, and high blood pressure. According to the present study’s results, people living with autoimmune or inflammatory diseases need to be particularly aware of these factors and their personal risk for heart disease. Prevention is nonetheless the best way to avoid heart problems, even for people who don’t have autoimmune diseases.
The present study was published in the journal Heart.