If you’re one of the 240 million people worldwide living with osteoarthritis, you’ll know how painful the condition can be. But while it’s known to impact the bones, cartilage, ligaments and muscles, new research now claims it’s also linked to a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for diseases that impact blood vessels and the heart and include everything from coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and cardiac arrest, to heart disease, arrhythmia and stroke.
Researchers from Lund University in Sweden studied around 469,000 people living in Sweden between 2003 and 2014 and identified 16,000 patients with knee arthritis, 9,000 with hip arthritis, 4,000 with wrist arthritis and 5,500 with other forms of arthritis. The research, published in the Osteoarthritis and Cartilage Journal, found the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease was higher for people with osteoarthritis than the rest of the population.
The study looked at the cause of death for people who died between 2004 and 2014 who had previously been diagnosed with osteoarthritis and compared the results with the rest of the population in the same Swedish region of Skane.
“The groups were not different in terms of most causes of death, but we saw the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease was higher for those with an osteoarthritis diagnosis,” lead author Martin Englund said in a statement. “The risk did not increase in the short term after the osteoarthritis diagnosis, but the longer a person had had osteoarthritis, the higher the risk of mortality from cardiovascular diseases compared with the background population.”
For example, if a person had a knee arthritis diagnosis for nine to 11 years, their risk of cardiovascular disease was 16 per cent higher. This means for every 100,000 people who have had osteoarthritis for nine to 11 years, 40 more die from cardiovascular disease each year, compared to the population without osteoarthritis.
The study didn’t investigate the mechanisms behind osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease and researchers don’t yet fully know the casual link between the two conditions. However, they believe it could have something to do with people becoming less active when they’re living with osteoarthritis.
“Osteoarthritis causes pain, which often results in people not being as mobile and becoming sedentary instead,” Englund said. “Thus, there is a risk of weight gain, which we know leads to secondary diseases, including cardiovascular diseases.”
There are also other commonalities between the two diseases including inflammation – which can be a contributory cause of osteoarthritis but also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
At present, there is no cure for osteoarthritis, but an array of treatments including paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs weight management and surgery may reduce pain. Meanwhile, many behavioural factors including smoking, poor diet, lack of physical exercise and excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and addressing these factors can decrease the risk.
In cases where the disease is caused by non-modifiable factors such as age, genetics, gender and ethnicity, medication or surgery may be an option. It’s always important to talk to a health professional about the best ways of managing both osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease.
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