Genes Could Boost Arthritis Patients' Death Risk

DNA may pose hazard for people with rheumatoid form of the disease

FRIDAY, April 27, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Rheumatoid arthritis patients with certain genetic traits may be at increased risk of early death from heart disease or cancer, British researchers report.

The study, published in the May issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, tracked 767 people with rheumatoid arthritis for 18 years. Over that time, 186 of the study participants died. The two major causes of death were cardiovascular disease (28.2 percent) and cancer (24.7 percent).

Of those who died of heart disease or cancer, 29 (32.6 percent) had two genetic variants, called HLA-DRB1 SE. The researchers also found that rheumatoid arthritis patients with two of these variants generally died young than other rheumatoid arthritis patients.

This was especially evident among patients who died of ischemic heart disease --average age of 67.8 years for those with two SE variants. The researchers said they were also surprised to find that patients with the two SE gene types had no clinical evidence of heart disease up to one year before they died of a heart attack.

"Our data raise the possibility that a higher risk of sudden cardiac death is associated with particular HLA-DRB1 genotypes that are more frequent in patients with rheumatoid arthritis," the study authors wrote. "Further studies are needed to determine whether clinically silent ischemic heart disease in rheumatoid arthritis is associated with certain HLA-DRB1 genotypes, and whether this can explain in part the higher risk of sudden death in these patients."

The researchers said they couldn't explain the link between these two SE types and the increased risk of death from heart disease or cancer in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

More information

There's more on rheumatoid arthritis at the American Academy of Family Physicians.

SOURCE: Arthritis & Rheumatism, news release, April 27, 2007
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