Objective: The risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is increased in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The objective of this study was to examine the distribution of known CVD risk factors and biomarkers of CVD in women with and without RA.
Methods: This study included two components: an examination of clinical CVD risk factors among women participating in the Nurses' Health Study, a prospective longitudinal cohort, and an analysis of CVD biomarkers among a subgroup of women from this cohort who provided a blood specimen in 1989 (biospecimen cohort). Data regarding clinical risk factors for CVD were collected in 1990 by mailed questionnaire. The diagnosis of RA was confirmed through a structured medical record abstraction. We compared clinical risk factors for CVD and biomarkers of CVD between women with and without RA, adjusting for age, body mass index (BMI), smoking status, and menopause status.
Results: Women with RA (n = 287) were significantly more likely than women without RA (n = 87,019) to report no alcohol use (48.2% versus 39.4%) and past cigarette smoking (47.8% versus 38.0%). No significant differences between these groups were observed for current smoker status, BMI, regular aspirin use, diabetes, hypertension, physical activity, and family history of early myocardial infarction. In the biospecimen cohort (69 RA cases and 491 controls), the levels of several inflammatory biomarkers linked to CVD were significantly elevated in women with RA, including CRP, fibrinogen, sICAM-1, sTNFRI, sTNFRII, and osteoprotegerin. Levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, triglycerides, apolipoprotein B, and Lp(a) were similar between groups. Levels of homocysteine were similar, but vitamin B(12) was significantly higher among women with RA than among the controls.
Conclusion: In women participating in the Nurses' Health Study, most traditional CVD risk factors were similar between those who had RA and those who did not. However, as expected, biomarkers of inflammation associated with CVD were generally elevated in women with RA.