10:42am Sunday 19 January 2020

Researchers link inflammatory diseases to increased cardiovascular risk

Patients suffering from two serious autoimmune disorders which cause muscular inflammation are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, says a group of Montreal researchers. Dr. Christian A. Pineau and his team at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) have linked muscular inflammation to increased cardiovascular risk for the first time. Their results were published recently in The Journal of Rheumatology.

Polymyositis (PM) and dermatomyositis (DM) are most common in women and seniors, although they can affect people of any age. Both diseases are caused by a hyperactive immune system which attacks healthy tissue, almost as if the body had become allergic to itself. This causes serious inflammation of muscle tissue in the body, leading to weakness, reduced mobility and, in the case of DM, rashes. Muscles in the heart and the lungs may also be affected.

“Inflammation has recently been recognized as a risk factor – along with hypertension and cholesterol problems – for arterial diseases that can lead to events such as heart attacks,” says Dr. Pineau. Nearly one in 5,000 people suffer from PM and DM, approximately 7,000 in Canada and 75,000 across North America.

“Our results indicate that the risk of heart attack is twice as high in these people as in the general population,” says Dr. Sasha Bernatsky, a study co-author. “Each year, one out of every 200 people with muscle inflammation, or myositis, succumbs to a stroke and one out of 75 to a heart attack.”

The researchers also noted that the immunosuppressive therapies currently used to treat PM and DM may have a preventive effect against heart attacks. “This is an extremely interesting finding for patients who are suffering from PM and DM but who may be hesitant to undergo this type of treatment,” adds Dr. Pineau, noting that some patients are concerned about the possible side-effects of immunosuppressive therapies, such as reduced immunity to infection.

“Sometimes patients do not want to undergo immunosuppressive treatment, which can last for years,” adds Dr. Bernatsky. “Knowing that it has additional preventive effects may help some people decide to opt for the treatment.”

Cardiovascular diseases are the world’s leading cause of death, and the researchers hope that their results will provide a clearer picture of the possible benefits and possibilities of immunosuppressive treatment. As a result of their encouraging findings, Dr. Pineau and his team are now turning their attention to possible benefits of immunosuppressive therapy on other health risks associated with inflammatory diseases.

This article was co-authored by Dr. Annaliese Tisseverasinghe of the MUHC, and Drs. Sasha Bernatsky and Christian A. Pineau of RI-MUHC and McGill University.

This study was funded by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Dr. Sasha Bernatsky is a researcher in the RI-MUHC Musculoskeletal Disorders Axis, a physician in the Rheumatology Division and a member of the Clinical Epidemiology Division at the MUHC. She is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine and an Associate Member in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at the McGill University Faculty of Medicine.

Dr. Annaliese Tisseverasinghe is a former internal medicine resident at the MUHC. She is currently pursuing her studies in rheumatology.

Dr Christian A. Pineau is a researcher in the RI-MUHC Musculoskeletal Disorders Axis, as well as co-director of the Lupus and Vasculitis clinic at the MUHC. He is also the Rheumatology Program Director and Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at the McGill University Faculty of Medicine.

The McGill University Health Centre
The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is a comprehensive academic health institution with an international reputation for excellence in clinical programs, research and teaching. Its partner hospitals are the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the Montreal General Hospital, the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Montreal Neurological Hospital, the Montreal Chest Institute and the Lachine Hospital. The goal of the MUHC is to provide patient care based on the most advanced knowledge in the health care field and to contribute to the development of new knowledge. www.muhc.ca

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC) is a world-renowned biomedical and health-care hospital research centre. Located in Montreal, Quebec, the institute is the research arm of the MUHC, the university health center affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. The institute supports over 600 researchers, nearly 1200 graduate and post-doctoral students and operates more than 300 laboratories devoted to a broad spectrum of fundamental and clinical research. The Research Institute operates at the forefront of knowledge, innovation and technology and is inextricably linked to the clinical programs of the MUHC, ensuring that patients benefit directly from the latest research-based knowledge.
The Research Institute of the MUHC is supported in part by the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.
For further details visit: www.muhc.ca/research.


  • Mark Shainblum, Media Relations Officer (Research), McGill University Tel.: (514) 398 2189
  • Julie Robert, Communications Coordinator (research), MUHC Public Relations and Communications Tel.: (514) 843 1560


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