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Teamwork guides cardio-rheumatology clinics that care for unique patient population


 

A personalized assessment to reduce cardiac risk

NYU-Langone’s program offers opportunities to educate patients about the link between cardiac and rheumatologic disease.

“Their rheumatologist or their dermatologist will say, ‘Hey, have you heard about the connection between psoriasis, psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis, and heart disease and the risk of heart attack or stroke?’ ” Dr. Garshick said.

The patients will often say they know nothing about these connections and want to learn more about how to treat it.

“We’ll say, ‘we have someone here that can help you.’ They’ll send them to myself or other colleagues like me across the country. We’ll assess blood pressure, weight, lipids, hemoglobin A1c, and other serologic and oftentimes imaging biomarkers of cardiovascular risk.” The patients will receive a personalized assessment, listing things they can do to lower their risk, whether it’s diet, exercise, or lifestyle. “Many times it can involve medications to reduce heart disease risk,” said Dr. Garshick.

In some instances, a rheumatologist or dermatologist may be concerned about starting a patient on a specific medication for the disease such as a JAK inhibitor. “We’ll help assess their risk because there’s been a lot of literature out in the rheumatology world about the risk of JAK inhibitors and heart disease and blood clots,” said Dr. Garshick.

Dr. Garshick also sees patients with rheumatologic conditions who have a specific cardiovascular concern or complaint such as shortness of breath or chest pain. “We’ll work that up with a specific knowledge of the underlying immune condition and how that may impact their heart,” he said.

Advances in research

As they continue to see patients and devise specific care plans, developers of cardio-rheumatology programs have been supplementing their work with ongoing research.

Yale’s clinic is expanding this year to include a new attending physician, Attila Feher, MD, PhD, who has conducted research in autoimmunity and microcirculation using molecular imaging and multimodality imaging techniques. Prevalence of coronary microvascular dysfunction appears to be increased in this patient population, Dr. Furman said.

Dr. Wassif recently coauthored a paper that examined patients with underlying rheumatologic conditions who undergo valvular and aortic valve replacement. “To our surprise, there was really no difference between patients with autoimmune conditions and others with nonautoimmune conditions,” she said, adding that the study had its limitations.

Other work includes data on Medicare patients with ST- and non-ST-elevation myocardial infarctions who have an underlying autoimmune disorder. Dr. Wassif and her colleagues found that their long-term outcomes are worse than those of patients without these conditions. “It’s unclear if worse outcomes are related to complications of autoimmunity versus the extent of their underlying disease. This is a work in progress and certainly an area that is ripe for research.”

Dr. Garshick and other collaborators at NYU have been focusing on the endothelium, specifically platelet biology in patients with psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and lupus. “We’re about to start the same research with gout as well,” he said.

“The process we’re most interested in is understanding how these diseases impact the early stages of cholesterol. And the way we’re doing that is evaluating the vasculature, specifically the endothelium,” he said.

He has finished two clinical trials that evaluate how standard heart disease medications such as aspirin and statins impact or can potentially benefit patients with psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis. “We have a whole list of other trials in the pipeline with other institutions across the country.”

Through a grant, Dr. Mankad is assessing whether a PET scan could detect inflammation in the hearts of rheumatoid arthritis patients. “We’re looking to see if the reason these patients have heart failure later in life is because their heart muscle actually shows evidence of inflammation, even when they have no symptoms,” she explained.

Other tests such as echocardiogram and CT scans will be used to evaluate coronary disease in about 40-50 patients. The goal of using these multiple imaging tools is to find markers indicating that the heart is affected by rheumatoid arthritis, which may indicate a higher likelihood of developing heart failure, she said.

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