Anyone who has ever had a rash, an infection, a sore throat, or other inflammatory diseases, understands the discomfort involved with inflammation. Short term inflammation, like allergic reactions, infections, and irritations are necessary for healing and recovery, but chronic inflammatory diseases can cause severe damage to the body over time.
It may seem counterproductive when the body’s healing process and recovery can actually cause damage, but it’s because the body isn’t meant to be chronically inflamed.
Many people with these conditions aren’t aware of the negative impact their condition is having on their body. For example, inflammatory diseases like psoriasis only appear on the skin, so most people believe the issue is strictly confined to the skin. In fact, the psoriasis is a result of an inflammation process taking place at a molecular and cellular level, creating the characteristic skin lesions known as psoriasis. This same process holds true for rheumatoid arthritis.
Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis have pain, swelling, and disfiguration as a result of a malfunctioning immune response. The body is attacking the body, resulting in inflammation for and against the body; It’s quite the conundrum.
The Basics of Inflammation
In order to understand how inflammation could possible affect your cardiometabolic health, you need to understand what exactly inflammation is. Inflammation is an incredibly complex process with basic principles that most of us are familiar with due to first-hand experience. When it all boils down to it, your body gets injured, and inflammation helps to heal it. The entire existence of the bodies inflammation process is to is to eliminate the initial cause of cell injury, clear out necrotic cells and tissues damaged from the original injury and the inflammatory process, and to initiate tissue repair.
Without inflammation, our body would be unable to repair itself which, obviously, would result in death. A simple papercut could continuously bleed until you had no blood left and common colds would destroy our throats from bacteria. Where the role of inflammation gets tricky though, is when the cause of the initial injury is the body’s own immune system. Inflammation attacks whatever caused the initial injury (for example, you get bite by a red ant and it swells. This is your body constricting blood vessels and containing the poison within that area, causing swelling.) Your body attacks itself, in turn, your body then attacks itself again. It’s a never-ending conundrum which is why these conditions are chronic; there’s no way to stop the process without taking out a vital function of your immune system.
Most of us have heard of the cardiovascular system, but not many of us are familiar with the cardiometabolic system. “Metabolism are a set of life containing chemical transformations within the cells of living organisms (1).” Your metabolism controls how you metabolize (absorb and distribute) sugars, proteins, nutrients, and other items your body digests. When your metabolism is upset by certain things, this can throw off your body’s normal functioning. Think about diabetes – your body is unable to process insulin normally, which can lead to life threatening reactions. In order to maintain blood glucose, the individual has to watch their diet, administer glucose accordingly, and constantly monitor their glucose levels.
Something as seemingly simple as a chocolate bar could cause them to have a life threatening glycemic reaction, all because their body has issues processing insulin. Rheumatoid arthritis is also a chronic condition that, as sufferers know, is a result of their own immune system attacking itself. Issues with your cardiometabolic system puts you at a heightened risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, according to data collected by UK Biobank.
The Study and The Results
A cross sectional study was done using data collected by over 500,000 participants. This study was able to determine that there may be a link between certain inflammatory disorders and the emergence of chronic cardiometabolic conditions in the body. Of the large number of participants, nearly 20,000 of them suffered from these chronic inflammatory disorders:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Systemic Vasculitis
- Chron’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
According to the study, “the most common disorder was psoriasis and the least common was SLE, but SLE demonstrated the strongest association with multiple cardiometabolic events (relative risk [RR] 6.36; 95% CI, 4.37-9.25). RA was associated with the next highest risk (RR 1.70; 95% CI, 1.59-1.83), followed by Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (RR 1.69; 95% CI, 1.51-1.89), ankylosing spondylitis (RR 1.28; 95% CI, 1.09-1.52), vasculitis (RR 1.64; 95% CI, 1.42-1.90), and psoriasis (RR 1.25; 95% CI, 1.16-1.35) (2).”
Due to this high amount of correlation, this will help healthcare providers put more emphasis on prevention and screenings in individuals who currently suffer from these conditions. Knowing that there is such a substantial connection between conditions will allow providers to educate patients on their risks upon diagnosis. Prevention and screening are some of the best ways to prevent cardiometabolic events, even more so for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, psoriasis, ankylosing spondylitis, systemic vasculitis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
This study doesn’t mean that you will suffer from one of these cardiometabolic events because you have a chronic condition, it only means that you are at a heightened risk of developing an event. Knowledge of this can help you, as a patient, better protect yourself and your health for the future. Having a good idea of what your condition could bring will give you a much better idea of what you should do to keep yourself healthy.
The good news is there are a bunch of different ways for you to lessen the likelihood of you developing an event. Maintaining an active lifestyle is one of the best ways, along with eating healthy. Going out and walking around will help get your heart rate up and burn fat, lessening your risk of heart disease, stroke, and the development if diabetes. Eating more fruits and vegetables will give your body more nutrients. Some vegetables and fruits actually aid in lessening inflammation in your body, so regularly eating these could help substantially.
Getting regular bloodwork and preventative screenings will help you keep on top of any changes in your health. For example, when developing diabetes, individuals will notice consistently high or low levels in their blood glucose, and may also feel sick before and/or after meals. Instead of ignoring these symptoms, you can get them checked by your doctor who can then recommend a plan for you to get back on track. Being overweight will also put you at a higher risk of developing the cardiometabolic events, so maintaining a healthy weight is essential.
Most of us are aware that chronic health conditions over time can cause other negative impacts on our health. Seeing a large amount of data reflect that only solidifies assumptions. You know your body best and any changes you feel are out of the ordinary need to be reported to your doctor. Cardiometabolic events are often deadly when not dealt with promptly. Knowing what you are at risk for will actually help lessen your risk if you take action.
Dregan A, Chowienczyk, Molokhia M. Cardiovascular and type 2 diabetes morbidity and all-cause mortality among diverse chronic inflammatory disorders [published June 10, 2017]. Heart. doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2017-311214