Objective: To compare the prevalence and severity of coronary-artery atherosclerosis in patients with early and established rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and controls.
Methods: Electron-beam computed tomography was used to measure the extent of coronary-artery calcification in 227 subjects, of whom 70 had early RA, 71 had established RA, and 86 were controls. Coronary-artery calcification calculated according to the Agatston calcium score was compared in patients and controls, and its relationship to clinical characteristics was examined. Adjusted odds ratios (ORs) were obtained with the use of proportional odds logistic regression models to determine independent associations of early and established RA and coronary-artery calcification.
Results: Calcium scores were higher in patients with established RA (median 40.2, interquartile range [IQR] 0-358.8) compared with those with early disease (median 0, IQR 0-42.6) and controls (median 0, IQR 0-19.2) (P = 0.001). Coronary-artery calcification occurred more frequently in patients with established RA (60.6%) than in patients with early RA (42.9%) and control subjects (38.4%) (P = 0.016) The OR for the likelihood of having more severe coronary-artery calcification (defined as an Agatston score >109) in patients with established disease was 3.42 (P = 0.002) after adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors. Among patients with RA, smoking (OR 1.02, P = 0.04) and an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (OR 1.02, P = 0.05) were associated with more severe coronary-artery calcification after adjustment for age and sex.
Conclusion: The prevalence and severity of coronary calcification is increased in patients with established RA and is related, in part, to smoking and an increased erythrocyte sedimentation rate.