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Friday, February 4, 2005; Page A06

Rheumatoid Arthritis Linked to Heart Disease

Rheumatoid arthritis seems to raise the risk of silent heart disease in patients -- even before they know they have the chronic condition, researchers said yesterday.

They found that patients who later were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis were three times as likely to have been hospitalized for an acute heart attack and five times as likely to have had an unrecognized heart attack.

After diagnosis, the rheumatoid arthritis patients were twice as likely to find out they had a heart attack and did not even notice, or to die suddenly from a heart condition, the researchers wrote in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

The increased risk could not be accounted for by other factors such as elevated cholesterol, blood pressure, weight or alcohol abuse, said Hilal Maradit Kremers of the Mayo Clinic, who led the study of 600 patients.

Rheumatoid arthritis, which affects more than 2 million Americans, is an autoimmune disease caused when immune cells mistakenly attack the joints and organs.

It causes chronic pain and disability, and there is no cure.

Alcohol as Deadly As High Blood Pressure

When it comes to causing death and disability, alcoholic drinks are as bad as tobacco and high blood pressure.

Alcohol is linked to more than 60 medical conditions, including oral, liver and breast cancers, heart disease, stroke and cirrhosis. It also increases the risk of car accidents, drowning, falls and homicides.

"Overall, 4 percent of the global burden of disease is attributable to alcohol, which accounts for about as much death and disability globally as tobacco and hypertension," said Robin Room of Stockholm University in a review of alcohol and public health in the journal the Lancet.

By comparison, tobacco accounts for 4.1 percent and high blood pressure 4.4 percent.

Tobacco may cause more deaths, but they are generally in older people than those from alcohol. But Room said that when the two are compared on the basis of years of life lost, they are about equivalent.

-- From News Services

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