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'Plaque' Build-Up May Occur Faster in Arthritics

Thu Dec 4, 2003

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Thickening of blood vessel walls -- a sign of "plaque" build-up -- seems to occur faster in people with rheumatoid arthritis, Japanese researchers report. This may explain why the disease has been linked with an increased risk of death from heart disease.

The results also indicate that blood tests that measure inflammation and bone changes can predict how fast such thickening will occur.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an "autoimmune" disease in which the body attacks its own tissues. The disease show not be confused with osteoarthritis, which is more common, less serious and results from wear and tear on the joints with age.

The new findings, which are reported in the medical journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, are based on a study of 62 women with rheumatoid arthritis and 63 healthy women. Ultrasound was used to assess blood vessel wall thickness when the study began and again several months later. Blood tests of inflammation and bone changes were also measured at enrollment.

Dr. Masaaki Inaba, from Osaka City University, and colleagues found that arthritis patients experienced a greater increase in vessel wall thickness during the study period than did healthy women.

On further analysis, the C-reactive protein level -- a test for inflammation -- and the urinary calcium-to-creatinine ratio - a test for bone changes -- were both predictors of the rise in vessel wall thickness seen in RA patients.

"This is the first prospective study demonstrating accelerated (blood vessel wall) thickening in patients with rheumatoid arthritis," the researchers state. "Further studies are needed to examine whether strict control of rheumatoid arthritis can prevent (plaque build-up) and reduce the risk of death from" heart disease and related causes, they add.

SOURCE: Arthritis and Rheumatism, November 2003.

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