Osteoarthritis may increase heart disease risk

Having osteoarthritis may increase the risk of death cardiovascular disease, according to a new epidemiological study published in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage.

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden studied 469,711 people living in Skåne, Sweden, who in 2003 were between 45 and 84 years old, and followed them until 2014. The group included 16,000 patients with knee arthritis, 9,000 with hip arthritis, 4,000 with wrist arthritis, and 5,500 with other forms of osteoarthritis. They had all been diagnosed in 2003 or before, according to the study abstract.

The team looked at the cause of death for those who died between 2004 and 2014 and who had previously been diagnosed with osteoarthritis and compared the results with the rest of the population in the same region. The groups were not different in terms of most causes of death, but researchers saw the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease was higher for those with an osteoarthritis diagnosis, according to Martin Englund, PhD, lead author of the study and professor at Lund University.

“The risk did not increase in the short term after the osteoarthritis diagnosis,” he said in a statement, “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 9 to 11 years, the risk was 16 percent higher.”

Researchers found for every 100,000 inhabitants who have had osteoarthritis for 9-11 years, 40 more die of cardiovascular diseases per year, compared with the population without osteoarthritis, in corresponding gender and age distribution.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting approximately 27 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It occurs when the cartilage or cushion between joints breaks down leading to pain, stiffness, swelling, and pain. It can affect any joint, but it occurs most often in knees, hips, lower back, and neck, small joints of the fingers, and the bases of the thumb and big toe.

The study did not investigate the mechanisms behind osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease and the causal link is not fully known.

"Osteoarthritis causes pain, which often results in people not being as mobile and becoming sedentary instead,” said Englund. “Thus, there is a risk of weight gain, which we know leads to secondary diseases, including cardiovascular diseases. There are also other background factors in common for osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease. Inflammation can be a contributory cause of osteoarthritis and can also lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Regardless, it's important to be physically active and keep body weight in check. In many countries there are special education programs for those suffering from osteoarthritis where you can get information on the disease as well as help and exercise advice.”