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Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients May Lower Stroke Risk with Acupuncture

What is the link between Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and strokes?

In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the immune system attacks the joints and leaves them sore, swollen, and stiff. But RA is more than a joint disease. It also affects other parts of your body, including your heart.

Having RA nearly doubles your risk for heart disease. It also increases your risk for a stroke, which happens when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to your brain becomes blocked or bursts.

When you have RA, your immune system attacks your joints. That attack releases inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that damage your joints and cause symptoms like swelling and pain.

RA doesn't stop at your joints, though. Those same inflammatory cells damage your blood vessels.

Inflammation makes your blood cells stick together and form clots. It also speeds the buildup of plaques on artery walls, called atherosclerosis. Those plaques narrow blood vessels and block the flow of blood, which increases your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

RA also damages heart valves and increases the risk for atrial fibrillation (Afib). This irregular heart rhythm makes you three to five times more likely to have a stroke caused by a blood clot.

New Study:

A new study, led by Dr. Hung-Rong Yen, of the School of Chinese Medicine at China Medical University in Taiwan, looked at a database of more than 23,000 RA patients in Taiwan.

That included nearly 12,300 patients who were treated with acupuncture between 1997 and 2010. On average, patients began acupuncture treatment 2.9 years after getting their RA diagnosis.

Of those who had acupuncture, 341 had a stroke over the study period, compared to 605 patients in the other group. That translated into a 43% lower risk of stroke.

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