It was reported recently that people with rheumatoid arthritis are having poor sleep due to the pain of the condition, but a newer concern has presented itself. According to experts, sufferers have a higher risk of suffering potentially fatal leg and lung blood clots.
The disease, which affects more than 580,000 people in England and Wales, causes pain and swelling in the joints.
Sufferers can find movement very painful and everyday tasks can be a challenge.
It is already known that the condition can cause complications, including swelling of the lungs, heart and blood vessels, and carpal tunnel syndrome, where pressure and pain is felt in the wrist.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a form of inflammatory arthritis and an autoimmune disease. For reasons no one fully understands, in rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system – which is designed to protect our health by attacking foreign cells such as viruses and bacteria – instead attacks the body’s own tissues, specifically the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints. As a result of the attack, fluid builds up in the joints, causing pain in the joints and inflammation that’s systemic – meaning it can occur throughout the body.
Source: Arthritis Foundation
Now experts writing online in the Annals Of The Rheumatic Diseases have found that people with the disease have a three times higher risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the legs than those without.
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Sufferers also have a two-fold increased risk of pulmonary embolism (PE) in the lungs.
The team, from the China Medical University in Taiwan, studied almost 30,000 patients in Taiwan with the condition, who were typically aged 52 at diagnosis.
Most (77%) were women, and they were compared with a group of almost 117,000 people who did not have the condition.
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Patients with rheumatoid arthritis were more likely to have other underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart failure and fractures.
But even after taking such factors into account, those with rheumatoid arthritis were still significantly more likely to develop blood clots.
The experts said their study "demonstrates that DVT and PE risks significantly increased in patients with rheumatoid arthritis compared with those of the general population".
Their study also showed that patients with rheumatoid arthritis under 50 were almost six times as likely to develop a DVT and more than three times as likely to develop PE than those who were middle-aged (50 to 65) or older.
The experts said data suggests that between 11% and 30% of people who develop a blood clot in the legs or lungs die within 30 days of diagnosis.
Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said: "Thrombosis in the legs, leading to blood clot in the lungs is a serious and not infrequently fatal disorder. There are many risk factors but where there is inflammation in the body affecting blood vessels, then this would increase the risk of thrombosis in veins.
"This study is the first we are aware of suggesting that rheumatoid arthritis, which is a disorder which is associated with widespread inflammation, can be a specific risk factor.
"There is a practical implication of this insofar as patients with rheumatoid arthritis often require joint replacement surgery, which itself is a risk factor for post-operative clot.
"This research emphasises the importance of adequate treatment of joint inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and the need for particular vigilance around surgery."