INTRODUCTION: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). An early manifestation of CVD is endothelial dysfunction which can lead to functional and morphological vascular abnormalities. Classical CVD risk factors and inflammation are both implicated in causing endothelial dysfunction in RA. The objective of the present study was to examine the effect of baseline inflammation, cumulative inflammation, and classical CVD risk factors on the vasculature following a six-year follow-up period.
METHODS: A total of 201 RA patients (155 females, median age (25th to 75th percentile): 61 years (53 to 67)) were examined at baseline (2006) for presence of classical CVD risk factors and determination of inflammation using C-reactive protein (CRP) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). At follow-up (2012) patients underwent assessments of microvascular and macrovascular endothelium-dependent and endothelium-independent function, along with assessment of carotid atherosclerosis. The CRP and ESR were recorded from the baseline study visit to the follow-up visit for each patient to calculate cumulative inflammatory burden.
RESULTS: Classical CVD risk factors, but not RA disease-related inflammation, predicted microvascular endothelium-dependent and endothelium-independent function, macrovascular endothelium-independent function and carotid atherosclerosis. These findings were similar in a sub-group of patients free from CVD, and not receiving non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, cyclooxygenase 2 inhibitors or biologics. Cumulative inflammation was not associated with microvascular and macrovascular endothelial function, but a weak association was apparent between area under the curve for CRP and carotid atherosclerosis.
CONCLUSIONS: Classical CVD risk factors may be better long-term predictors of vascular function and morphology than systemic disease-related inflammation in patients with RA. Further studies are needed to confirm if assessments of vascular function and morphology are predictive of long-term CV outcomes in RA.