About 374,000 Canadians live with rheumatoid arthritis which affects their joins and puts them at higher risk for other health problems. (ljubaphoto/iStock)

Rheumatoid arthritis patients at higher risk of dangerous blood clots: study

People who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and infection. Researchers at Arthritis Research Canada have found that they also have a higher risk of developing life threatening blood clots.  

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when  the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints and other tissues causing swelling, pain, and stiffness. It can affect almost all organ systems and cause such things as cardiovascular problems, infections, depression and gastrointestinal ulcers. About 1.2 per cent of Canadian aged 16 and older live with the condition. It affects more women than men.

For this study, the researchers investigated the risk of blood clots that start in a vein and can travel to the lungs and blood clots in veins of the leg. These kinds of clots (VTE) affect more than one in 1,000 people in Western populations each year. 

Dr. Antonio Aviña-Zubieta says the higher risk of blood clots must be taken into account in treating patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. (Sombilon Studios)

Risk highest in first year after diagnosis

The study found that the risk of VTE was highest in the first year after patients are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The risk decreases progressively as patients are treated for the inflammation associated with arthritis but it is still significantly higher five years later. 

“These findings have important implications for clinical care, both immediately after a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis and in long-term treatment as treating inflammation decreases the risk,” said Antonio Aviña-Zubieta,  a rheumatologist and senior scientist of rheumatology at Arthritis Research Canada. “Clinicians should be aware that RA causes patients to have a higher risk not only of heart attacks and strokes, but also VTE, particularly in the period soon after diagnosis.”

The study was published in the journal Rheumatology.

Arthritis Research Canada is the largest clinical research institution in North America. 

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