Osteoarthritis and Your Heart

Having OA may increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Here’s what you can do to protect your heart.

Although joint damage, pain, and swelling are the hallmarks of osteoarthritis (OA), joints aren’t the only part of the body this disease can affect. Research also shows that the heart may be at risk in people with degenerative joint disease.

People with OA are almost three times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease (CVD) or heart failure than those without OA, studies show. The link is especially strong when arthritis is in certain joints, such as the knee and hip.

But just because you have OA doesn’t mean you can’t improve your heart health.

What’s Behind the OA-Heart Disease Link?

Although OA is not traditionally considered an inflammatory disease, research is beginning to show that OA does involve inflammation. And long-term inflammation contributes to CVD. 

Growing older makes you more likely to develop both diseases. Aging thickens and stiffens the arteries, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart damage. Joints degenerate from years of use and repeated small injuries. Unfortunately, age isn’t reversible, but you can address the preventable risk factors below.

Physical activity is crucial for a healthy heart and limber joints. Research shows that people with OA who don’t exercise are more likely to have heart disease, and to die from it. If joint pain keeps you from moving, a total joint replacement could help you regain your mobility and lower your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Obesity can lead to both OA and CVD. Carrying excess body weight puts stress on both the joints and heart, which can cause damage over time. Fat cells also produce inflammatory chemicals that are harmful to joints, the heart and blood vessels.

This collection of conditions, which includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess fat around the middle, and abnormal cholesterol, increases the risk for CVD. Metabolic syndrome and OA often go hand in hand. About 60% of people with OA have this cluster of problems, compared to 23% of people in the general population. Evidence suggests that metabolic syndrome may cause or worsen joint damage.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) relieve OA pain, but they also may increase heart risks, especially if you take large doses of them for long periods of time. Some studies have suggested that long-term use of these pain relievers might triple the risk of CVD.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Heart?

Ask your doctor what your ideal weight should be based on your height. If the number on the scale is too high, lower it with diet and exercise

Do arthritis-friendly, low-impact aerobic exercises like swimming or riding a stationary bike to burn calories without hurting your joints.

See your doctor for regular checks of your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If they’re out of range, bring them back to normal with diet, exercise and medicine if necessary.

Take the smallest possible NSAID dose, for the shortest period of time needed to manage your pain. Try non-drug pain-relieving options such as ice, heat, and massage.

If your pain isn’t under good control and you’re not exercising as a result, ask your doctor if it’s time for joint replacement surgery. Weigh the benefits of having a procedure against the risks before making your decision.

Reviewed 2/14/22


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