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Your knee pain may be affecting more than your knee

Dr. Steven Heidinger writes about the link between osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease
Wellness Column by Dr. Steven Heidinger

Fill in the blank, “____________ increases the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.” If you pick diabetes, you would be correct. Smoking? Poor diet? Inactivity? Obesity? All very valid answers.  

What if you filled in “knee arthritis”, or “hip arthritis”?  Unfortunately, yes, these somewhat insidious afflictions are well known to increase one’s risk of dying from heart disease. Research is telling us that there is a definite link between osteoarthritis (OA) and dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD).

In the last few weeks, I highlighted the significance of chronic pain in Canada, its effects on the individual and on society. The Canadian Pain Task Force tells us that one out of five Canadians suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain can come from many sources, and musculoskeletal is one of the more common.

Researchers from Sweden identified a link between hip and knee arthritis and death due to cardiovascular disease. The risk of dying from cardiovascular disease was 16 per cent higher for those who had lived with OA for nine to 11 years. The researchers made no statement as to the reasons for why there may be a link, however there are two very good mechanisms for why OA can be deadly.

A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to increased risk of heart disease. What is a common reason for why many people remain inactive? Pain and stiffness of course. What are the common symptoms of OA? Pain and stiffness. While this is common sense reasoning for the link between OA and CVD, there is another viable explanation.

Chronic inflammation is a known cause of (CVD). Chronic inflammation can lead to the immune system damaging the lining of the arteries, causing atherosclerosis. If the inflammation of chronic gum disease has been related to heart damage, then what about chronic joint inflammation?  This is one theory as to why knee and hip arthritis increases the risk of dying from CVD.

I cannot stress enough, to the patients in my office who suffer from chronic musculoskeletal pain, that their back and hip issues are lifestyle problems in the same category as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even cancer.  

More credence must be given to the effects that musculoskeletal pain has on one’s overall health and the health care system as a whole. Health care policy makers must recognize that musculoskeletal problem like OA is already a significant public health issue.  

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.  

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