Objective: To determine whether arterial wall thickening is advanced in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients compared with healthy controls by measuring the intima-media thickness (IMT) of the common carotid and femoral arteries, and to evaluate the factors associated with arterial IMT in patients with RA.
Methods: We studied 138 RA patients and 94 healthy controls (matched for age, sex, and other major risk factors for atherosclerosis). IMT was measured on digitized still images of the common carotid and femoral arteries obtained by high-resolution ultrasonography (10-MHz in-line Sectascanner). Laboratory variables relevant to RA activity were measured by routine methods. The degree of RA progression was assessed by scoring (Larsen method) metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints on hand radiographs. Activities of daily living were determined by a modified Health Assessment Questionnaire (M-HAQ) score, and physical activity levels were assessed by ultrasound measurement of the calcaneus (expressed as the osteo-sono assessment index [OSI] Z score).
Results: Common carotid and femoral artery IMTs were significantly higher (P < 0.05) in RA patients (mean +/- SD 0.641 +/- 0.127 and 0.632 +/- 0.125 mm, respectively) compared with controls (0.576 +/- 0.115 and 0.593 +/- 0.141 mm, respectively). Multiple regression analysis revealed a significant association between RA and the common carotid artery IMT. Moreover, the common carotid artery IMT in RA patients was positively associated with disease duration, the MCP joint Larsen score, and the M-HAQ score, and was negatively associated with the calcaneus OSI Z score. No significant association was found between corticosteroid treatment and common carotid artery IMT.
Conclusion: RA patients exhibited greater thickness of the common carotid and femoral arteries than healthy controls. The duration and severity of RA and decreased activities of daily living, but not corticosteroid treatment, were independently associated with the increased arterial wall thickness.