Stiff Fingers Are Windows Into Heart Disease   

Stiff Fingers Are Windows Into Heart Disease

Finnish researchers have discovered an association between osteoarthritis in even a single finger joint in men and the likelihood they will die of cardiovascular disease.

Women with osteoarthritis in the fingers aren't home free by any means, the study found. They had a modestly higher risk of dying from heart disease if they had arthritis in one finger or in symmetrical joints, the Finns report in the February issue of Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Men with symmetrical arthritis of the fingers weren't at increased risk of dying from heart disease, but those with arthritis in a single finger joint were 42 percent likelier to die.

Women were at increased risk whether they had a single digit involved or symmetrical joints, with a 25 percent higher risk for symmetrical joints with arthritis and 26 percent for a single joint.

The biggest surprise, say researchers, was that "osteoarthritis in any finger joint significantly predicted cardiovascular deaths in men."

Exactly why this occurs isn't known, researchers say. But "even if the mechanism remains unclear, it is well known that body mass index [BMI]" is tied to both osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease. Of the 3,595 participants, 2,139 had BMIs above 25, which is considered overweight.

Researchers say that even though the association between hand osteoarthritis and increased risk of death from heart problems isn't thoroughly understood, "this study shows clearly how important are the healthy ways of living. Try to avoid getting overweight by exercising enough and eating low-fat food, and you have a lower risk both of osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease and you will live a longer life."

If you already have arthritis, ask your doctor about anti-inflammatory medicines to delay the progress of the disease and about a moderate exercise program.


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