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Heart health meets joint health at the WCH cardio-rheumatology clinic

December 18, 2017

By Lindsay Jolivet

Canada’s first combined cardio-rheumatology clinic is helping patients manage their heart disease risk at Women’s College Hospital (WCH).

Drs. Paula Harvey and Lihi Eder established the clinic in response to evidence that patients with inflammatory rheumatic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, have a higher risk of heart disease. For example, rheumatoid arthritis doubles a patient’s risk of heart attack and stroke.

“Inflammation is not good for the arteries,” says Dr. Eder, a rheumatologist at WCH and a scientist at Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI) who studies psoriatic arthritis, which affects about a third of patients who have psoriasis on their skin.

The clinic now accepts referrals for patients with three conditions: rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis, which is an inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine. Doctors at the clinic monitor their patients for factors that increase the risk for developing cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Additionally, each patient is evaluated for the presence of blockages in major arteries and abnormal heart function.

“Most of these rheumatology patients would not have been assessed for cardiovascular disease risk or for evidence of established cardiovascular disease if they had not been referred to our clinic,” says Dr. Harvey, the head of cardiology at WCH and a scientist at WCRI.

Dr. Eder is also studying ultrasound of the carotid arteries as a method to detect the buildup of plaques that can lead to heart attack and stroke. She has found that her rheumatology patients have much more severe plaques than those without rheumatic conditions. Her team is currently working on developing a model to identify rheumatic patients who are at high risk for heart diseases using novel markers in the blood.

The goal is to help patients manage any heart conditions they have now, and prevent future heart problems by intervening early.

Dr. Eder and Dr. Harvey
From left: Dr. Eder and Dr. Harvey
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