Objective: Systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis represent independent risk factors for atherosclerosis (ATS), although this may be confounded by continuous pharmacologic treatment. Primary Sjögren's syndrome (SS) shares several features of these diseases and may therefore represent an interesting model for verifying the presence of accelerated ATS in the absence of pharmacologic interference. The present study therefore used this model to describe the presence of accelerated ATS in a group of young women.
Methods: Thirty-seven untreated white women with primary SS were evaluated clinically and serologically. Carotid and femoral artery intima-media thickness (IMT) was evaluated in the patients and in 35 age-matched healthy women who served as controls.
Results: The patients had a higher IMT than did the controls at both the carotid (mean +/- SD 0.82 +/- 0.24 mm versus 0.63 +/- 0.20 mm; P < or = 0.001) and the femoral (0.81 +/- 0.26 mm versus 0.67 +/- 0.23 mm; P < or = 0.019) levels, and had a higher prevalence of carotid intima-media thickening (49% versus 11% of controls; P < or = 0.001). The patient subset with high carotid IMT showed an increased prevalence of leukopenia and circulating anti-SSA antibodies; interestingly, the number of leukocytes was inversely correlated with the level of arterial IMT in patients with SS. Multivariate analysis demonstrated that anti-SSA antibodies were independent predictors of carotid artery thickening, while leukopenia was a predictor of both carotid and femoral artery thickening.
Conclusion: Subclinical ATS was evident in about one-half of the patients with SS. Its association with some features typical of connective tissue diseases, such as the presence of anti-SSA and leukopenia, suggests that the immune dysregulation characterizing this autoimmune disorder may play a key role in inducing early ATS.