An elderly woman holds her wrist and appears to be in pain.
A patient with rheumatoid arthritis may face added risk of developing heart disease, blood clots and sleep apnea. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

People with inflammatory bowel disease, Type 1 diabetes or blood clots may be at increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis—and people with rheumatoid arthritis are at added risk for heart disease, blood clots and sleep apnea, researchers say.

Their findings could improve understanding of how rheumatoid arthritis develops and also lead to earlier detection and screening for other conditions.

The study included 821 rheumatoid arthritis patients and 2,455 people without the disease.

Researchers identified 11 health conditions associated with rheumatoid arthritis, including epilepsy and pulmonary fibrosis.

They also found that blood clots occurred more commonly in people with rheumatoid arthritis before diagnosis, suggesting that systemic inflammation may begin before rheumatoid arthritis symptoms appear.

People with Type 1 diabetes were also at increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis, showing the importance of monitoring for it in people with autoimmune diseases—and vice versa, according to study authors.

Other illnesses often “accumulate in an accelerated fashion after diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis,” said corresponding author Dr. Vanessa Kronzer, a fellow in rheumatology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“We also found that autoimmune diseases and epilepsy may predispose to development of rheumatoid arthritis, while heart disease and other conditions may develop as a result of rheumatoid arthritis,” she added in a clinic news release.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects not only the joints, but can also damage parts of the body such as the lungs, heart and blood vessels.

“Our findings suggest that people with certain conditions, such as Type 1 diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease, should be carefully monitored for rheumatoid arthritis,” Kronzer said. “In addition, people who have rheumatoid arthritis, and their health care providers, should have heightened suspicion and a low threshold to screen for cardiovascular disease, blood clots and sleep apnea.”

The study was published recently in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.