INTRODUCTION: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). One of the earliest manifestations of CVD is endothelial dysfunction (ED), which can lead to functional and morphological vascular abnormalities. Several non-invasive assessments of vascular function and morphology can be utilised to assess vascular health, but little is known about the association between each of these assessments in patients with RA, and they tend to be used interchangeably in the literature. The objective of the present study was to examine associations between measures of vascular function and morphology in patients with RA.
METHODS: A total of 201 RA patients (155 females, median (25th to 75th percentile) age: 67 (59 to 73)) underwent assessments of microvascular endothelium-dependent and endothelium-independent function (laser Doppler imaging with iontophoresis of acetylcholine and sodium-nitroprusside respectively), macrovascular endothelium-dependent and endothelium-independent function (flow-mediated dilatation and glyceryl-trinitrate-mediated dilation respectively), and vascular morphology (pulse wave analysis, carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT), and carotid plaque).
RESULTS: Spearman's correlations revealed that from the functional parameters, only macrovascular endothelium-independent function was inversely associated with cIMT (-0.294 (P < 0.001)) after applying the Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons. For carotid plaque, t tests showed that macrovascular endothelium-independent function was lower in patients with plaque than without (15.5 ± 8.3 vs. 23.1 ± 9.1%, P = 0.002, respectively).
CONCLUSIONS: With the exception of macrovascular endothelium-independent function, all other measures of vascular function were not associated with vascular morphology. This suggests that different assessments of vascular function and morphology in patients with RA reflect quite distinct mechanisms and phases of the atherosclerotic process and should not be used interchangeably.