One of the common misconceptions about rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is that it only affects a person’s joints. In fact, RA is an autoimmune disease that can affect the whole body, including internal organs. Research shows that patients with RA are at a significantly increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Vectra® Patient Ambassador Steve shared his experience with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and how he is navigating the competing challenges of RA and heart disease.
When I was in my 50s, I received my RA diagnosis. One of the first things my doctor told me was that my heart should be monitored since RA can affect vital organs. I was already under the care of a cardiologist since I had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation or Afib when I was 21 years old. The Afib wasn’t associated with my RA, but my RA gave me another reason to be vigilant about my heart health. After my RA diagnosis, I continued to maintain my care with the cardiologist and did my best to stay healthy and take care of my heart. In my case, that meant having an annual physical and getting an electrocardiogram (EKG) twice each year.
For a long while, things were going really well for me. After a period of trying to find the right medication, my doctor and I settled on a biologic that seemed to help a lot. We used the Vectra® test to monitor my disease activity, and for a period of a few years, I was receiving scores of 11 and 12 on my semi-annual Vectra tests, which showed a state of low disease activity. Those scores let me and my doctor know that my medicine was working, and what I was feeling aligned with the low scores on my Vectra reports.
Earlier this year I went in for a follow-up visit after a knee replacement surgery and the doctors found swelling around my heart. Because some biologics carry a potential side effect for increased cardiovascular risk, my doctor recommended I discontinue the biologic I was on. I really hated to do that because I had been doing so well for so long with the medicine I was taking. I consulted my cardiologist, my rheumatologist, and my primary care physician – and they all agreed I needed to come off the biologic for a while.
It didn’t take long at all before I really began to feel the effects of being off of medication. I had constant pain in my joints, and the methotrexate I was prescribed wasn’t nearly as effective as the other medicine had been. I was shocked to receive a score of 39 on my next Vectra test – a huge jump from my score just six months earlier.
My heart condition didn’t improve enough while I was off my medication for me to go back on the biologic that had served me so well for so long.
The next step in this journey is to have a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted. I feel very comfortable with this solution after meeting with a specialist. I’ve also been able to start a new biologic, which I can continue even after my device is implanted. This biologic isn’t as risky for my heart and I’m already beginning to feel less pain.
Friends and family who know me well know that my go-to remedy for pain is my sense of humor. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to lift someone’s spirits with a silly joke or funny observation. Finding the humor in life has helped me through many situations. As a Vectra Patient Ambassador, I post each week on my Facebook, and I try to find something funny that makes people laugh and relays some valuable information at the same time.
Over the years, I’ve dove headfirst into any information I could get about RA – whether it was through websites such as CreakyJoints.org or the RA Warrior, chat boards like the one on the myVectra patient portal, community emails, or brochures from a doctor’s waiting room. I’ll be doing the same as I dig deeper into my heart condition and the impact of having a pacemaker/defibrillator.
As I continue my journey treating both my RA and my heart health, I know that monitoring my RA on a consistent basis is important. Testing with Vectra over time will show me and my doctor whether my treatment is working and what my levels of inflammation are—something that impacts my RA symptoms and my heart health.
Stay tuned to VectraVoice™ for future updates on my story.
*The perspectives shared in this post are personal to our Patient Ambassador, and do not constitute medical advice. Always consult a doctor before starting or stopping a medication or specific diet or exercise plan.
1. Andrews LW. What Rheumatoid Arthritis Does to Your Heart. Healthgrades. https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/rheumatoid-arthritis/what-rheumatoid-arthritis-does-to-your-heart. Published October 3, 2019. Accessed January 19, 2021.