A leading arthritis charity claims many patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are not fully aware of the cardiovascular risks associated with the condition.
The Arthritis Research Campaign says people with RA are much more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than the general population, but few realise this.
Now the charity is warning people about the dangers so they can change their lifestyle by stopping smoking, losing weight, eating more healthily, and taking drugs such as aspirin or statins to lower their blood pressure or cholesterol.
Dr Holly John, a specialist registrar in rheumatology at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley, has been awarded £183,430 from the Arthritis Research Campaign to develop new educational material which will improve care of the elderly.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects around 400,000 people in the UK and causes pain and stiffness in the joints. But its effect on internal organs such as the heart and lungs is less well known.
Dr John said: "The medical profession has appreciated the risks rheumatoid arthritis patients have of developing cardiovascular disease for the past 10 to 15 years, but this knowledge has been slow in filtering down to patients.
"We want knowledge to be translated into clinical benefit for patients, and hope to show that knowing about these risks makes a tangible clinical difference."