Ultrasound May Detect Heart Disease Earlier in Arthritis Patients

Study suggests common diagnostic methods underestimate risk for those with rheumatoid arthritis

WEDNESDAY, June 6, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- A special type of ultrasound can detect heart disease early in people with rheumatoid arthritis, according to a new study.

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis are at increased risk for heart disease, and it is important to be able to spot the disease at an early stage and begin treatment before it progresses to the point where a patient is at danger for a heart attack or heart failure, the researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., explained.

Diagnostic methods commonly used by doctors, however, often underestimate the degree of heart danger in these patients.

"The challenge we've had in our studies -- and other people have had as well -- is identifying patients with rheumatoid arthritis early enough so we can intervene, before the symptoms become clinically apparent," senior researcher Dr. Sherine Gabriel, a rheumatologist and epidemiologist, said in a Mayo news release.

In this study, the research team used a type of ultrasound called speckle-tracking echocardiography to assess heart function in 100 rheumatoid arthritis patients and 50 people without rheumatoid arthritis or heart disease.

The arthritis patients had heart impairment that wasn't seen in the healthy people, and this impairment had a unique pattern that could be used to identify heart disease before patients have clinical signs.

The study was presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism, in Berlin.

A recently published Mayo Clinic study found that two widely used heart disease risk-assessment methods -- the Framingham and Reynolds risk scores -- often underestimate the heart danger in many rheumatoid arthritis patients, according to the news release.

This ultrasound test could help improve early detection of heart problems in these patients, Gabriel said.

Because the new study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about rheumatoid arthritis.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, June 4, 2012
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