Purpose of review: To summarise recent evidence for elevated risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and explore explanatory mechanisms and modalities that may lessen such risk.
Recent findings: Evidence for elevated CHD risk in RA is convincing. On current estimates, individuals who have had RA for several years have around a twofold higher risk for CHD compared with non-RA persons after taking account of most traditional risk factors. Such excess risk appears to be driven by systemic inflammation both directly via its deleterious effects on blood vessels (endothelial dysfunction inclusive of myocardial microvascular abnormalities) and indirectly by its accentuation of multiple risk pathways including lipid abnormalities. Established therapies that lessen RA disease activity and systemic inflammation will likely lessen CHD risk, although there remains considerable scope for more robust studies employing better measures of vascular disease (e.g., carotid intima-media thickening). Other emerging evidence indicates statins may have dual effects in RA, with a modest disease-modifying effect (requiring confirmation) and significant lipid-lowering action. The latter finding is particularly important because extrapolation of data from all statin endpoint trials suggests that the extent of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol reduction may account for most statin clinical benefit.
Summary: Systemic inflammation is the major driver for excess vascular comorbidity in RA. Controlling systemic inflammation should lessen vascular risk but complete, long-term suppression of articular inflammation is rarely achieved. Thus, the use of conventional CHD risk reduction strategies, in particular statins, should be considered in patients with RA with prevalent CHD or at elevated risk.