Objective: Recent studies have suggested increased cardiovascular disease among patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). We undertook this study to obtain morphologic evidence of subclinical atherosclerosis in RA patients.
Methods: We used high-resolution B-mode ultrasound to compare carotid artery intima-media wall thickness (IMT) between 53 postmenopausal women with RA and 53 controls matched by age, sex, and menopause status. No subject in either group had a history of atherosclerosis or its complications. We investigated the association between IMT and relevant clinical and therapeutic variables, including the impact of low-dose corticosteroid therapy (< or = 10 mg/day prednisolone).
Results: The mean +/- SD IMT of the left and right common carotid arteries in RA patients was significantly greater than that in controls (0.77 +/- 0.09 mm versus 0.68 +/- 0.14 mm; P < 0.001). Early RA (duration < or = 1 year) was associated with lesser IMT than was RA of longer duration (0.72 +/- 0.03 mm versus 0.78 +/- 0.01 mm; P < 0.04). Prednisolone use was not associated with increased IMT (0.78 +/- 0.02 mm in nonusers versus 0.76 +/- 0.01 mm in users; P = 0.38).
Conclusion: Our data indicate that RA patients have an ultrasonic marker of early atherosclerosis consistent with an increased risk for atherosclerosis.