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Heart Health and RA: A New and Unexpected Pain

It's that time again: I've developed yet another pain and complication because of my RA.

For those of you who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you know this feeling of dread all too well; as many community members have previously discussed, RA impacts all parts of the body, not just your joints, so it's not surprising — at least to us — that there is yet another pain developed.

This time, it's in my heart.

A cardiologist determined I had a heart problem

I want to share a little bit of my story about the amount of testing I've had to undergo because of this issue to spread awareness about RA's impact on the heart and the intensity of the testing involved in such screening/diagnostic processes.

For some background, for awhile now, I have had some random and intermittent issues with my heart — heart flutters, increased resting heart rate, and a general feeling of malaise. As I was discussing my symptoms, my rheumatologist referred me to a cardiologist to make sure everything is okay.

This or That

Did you know RA can impact your heart health?

Two months later, I finally had my appointment with the cardiologist, who determined that: 1) I need to stop drinking so much caffeine (which... fair, but that is not the main cause of my issues) and 2) that I had an electrical problem with my heart that had previously not been known in my medical history. This was determined through a simple EKG.

What is mitral valve regurgitation?

With these results, my cardiologist recommended a stress test and an ultrasound of my heart. While I passed the stress test — albeit with a slightly elevated heart rate — the ultrasound determined I have some slight regurgitation in my heart when it beats. According to my cardiologist (and Mayo Clinic), this is called mitral valve regurgitation, which is when the valve between the left heart chambers doesn't fully close and blood leaks back through the valve. This can mean there's not enough blood flowing to the rest of the body.1

While the amount of regurgitation was small, it was still significant because I had never had it before, even when I had had an ultrasound of my heart in the past. Unfortunately, my cardiologist said that it is hard to know exactly what caused this regurgitation to occur, but that it is likely due to high levels of inflammation associated with having RA, especially when mine was untreated when I was younger.

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Have others with RA experienced heart problems?

Obviously, this is distressing news. I have had numerous health complications surface because of RA, and this is just adding onto the list. This one in particular is more important because it involves the heart, while other complications have been relatively more mild; I feel frustrated at the fact that my body continues to deteriorate even when I am taking all my medications and being properly treated for RA.

It makes me scared for the future. If this is happening when I am 26, then what is going to happen in the next 10 years? Twenty years? I know I shouldn't think so dramatically or catastrophically, but the thought does plague my mind. My family also does not have the best track record with heart problems, either, so that is only compounding the problem. And that's both sides of my family, too.

I want to close by asking fellow community members: have you had a similar situation? Have you had a heart problem surface because of RA? What did you do to alleviate the pain or the condition?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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