TUESDAY, June 5, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Men with autoantibody rheumatic factor -- a marker of inflammation strongly associated with rheumatoid arthritis -- in their blood have a three-fold increased risk of heart disease, a new study says.
In men, the increased risk associated with rheumatoid factor is similar to that of well-known heart disease risk factors such as diabetes (2.5 times) and high blood pressure (4.4 times). Rheumatoid factor does not increase heart disease risk in women, the researchers said.
A simple blood test is used to measure rheumatoid factor.
The study authors said their findings add to growing evidence that inflammation is implicated in atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and suggest that auto-immune processes -- and rheumatoid factor in particular -- may play a role in the disease process itself.
They studied 567 men and 589 women born in Hertfordshire, Great Britain, between 1931 and 1937. The participants were assessed for history of ischemic heart disease (reduced blood supply to the heart), rheumatoid factor and traditional risk factors for heart disease.
The researchers also looked at other common auto-antibodies (antinuclear antibodies and anticardiolipin antibodies) but found no link with ischemic heart disease.
The study findings were published online June 5 in the journal Heart.
The American Heart Association has more about ischemic heart disease.