It’s long been recognized that persons with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have an increased risk of heart disease. Researchers may have identified one of the possible causes for the disproportionate heart disease risk. In a study conducted by John Hopkins University in Baltimore, researchers found that patients with RA had a 51 percent greater percentage of visceral fat that their RA-free counterparts.
Visceral fat, unlike subcutaneous fat, is the kind of fat that you can’t see. It lies deep under the layers of subcutaneous fat (surface fat that you can “see”) and makes it home around the abdominal organs. Visceral fat is fat that makes your mid-section wide and contributes to the development of some very unpleasant health conditions such as: diabetes, high blood pressure, some types of cancer, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. It’s also a risk factor in the development of heart disease. A 51 percent greater rate of visceral fat could explain in part why the instance of heart disease is so high in patients with RA.
The study consisted of 131 participants with RA and an additional 121 participants who were RA-free. The average age of the study participants was 62 years and all where white in terms of ethnicity. In addition, all participants were currently part of other studies relating to heart disease. In examining risk factors for heart disease (and adjusting for such things as medications), researchers found as follows:
• Diabetes: With respect to diabetes, there was little difference between the RA and RA-free group. Approximately 8 percent of both groups were found to have diabetes.
• Hypertension: The instance of hypertension was much higher in RA patients (57 percent in RA patients as compared to 42 percent in their RA-free counterparts).
• Metabolic syndrome: Researchers observed that metabolic syndrome was more common in RA patients (36 percent to 27 percent).
• Total fat: There was little difference between total fat in the male RA group and control group. The total fat rate for women with RA was 41 percent greater than RA-free counterparts.