Patients with rheumatoid arthritis are at greater risk of developing a venous thromboembolism (VTE), according to a recent study published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research.
Risk factors for venous thromboembolism -- which comprises deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism -- have historically included advanced age, history of VTE, hospitalization, and surgery or trauma to a patient's legs. However, increasingly, doctors are considering the link between VTE and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own joints and other tissues. It affects approximately 1.5 million adults in the U.S., commonly attacking the hip and knee joints. As a result, hip and knee surgeries are common among RA patients. In general, hospitalization can lead to increased risk of VTE, so patients with RA should be vigilant.
Venous thromboembolism affects approximately one in every 1,000 people. However, patients with RA were 2.4 times as likely to develop VTE than the general population, according to the study by Seoyoung C. Kim and colleagues.
The data is in line with another recent study, from Taiwan, that looked at 29,000 patients with RA. According to their findings, patients with RA were 3.36 times more likely to develop deep vein thrombosis and had a 2.07-fold risk of developing a pulmonary embolism.
The exact cause for the elevated risk of VTE in patients with rheumatoid arthritis isn't clear. However, RA patients experience high levels of fibrin, a protein related to blood clotting, which may be the cause of their increased risk.
Reduce Your Risk
If you or your loved one is a patient with RA, talk to your doctor about risk factors, including the RA itself, any history of VTE, and whether there is a history of obesity, smoking, or heart disease. This is particularly important during hospitalization or surgery, when risk of VTE is elevated.
Ask your doctor about thromboprophylaxis, drugs and therapies used to prevent blood clots from forming. In some cases, these treatments may be prescribed during and after hospitalization to help halt the development of future blood clots.
In your daily life, stay active through RA-friendly exercises, such as swimming. This is not only beneficial to treating your RA but also reduces your risk of developing blood clots. During long periods of sitting, as on an airplane, decrease your risk of clots by doing exercises while seated or getting up and walking around.
Quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy diet can also help reduce your risk.