Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterized by inflammation and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). This study investigates possible associations between CVD and the use of conventional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) in RA. Using a case control design, 613 RA patients (5,649 patient-years) were studied, 72 with CVD and 541 without CVD. Data on RA, CVD and drug treatment were evaluated from time of RA diagnosis up to the first cardiovascular event or the end of the follow-up period. The dataset was categorized according to DMARD use: sulfasalazine (SSZ), hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) or methotrexate (MTX). Odds ratios (ORs) for CVD, corrected for age, gender, smoking and RA duration, were calculated per DMARD group. Patients who never used SSZ, HCQ or MTX were used as a reference group. MTX treatment was associated with a significant CVD risk reduction, with ORs (95% CI): 'MTX only', 0.16 (0.04 to 0.66); 'MTX and SSZ ever', 0.20 (0.08 to 0.51); and 'MTX, SSZ and HCQ ever', 0.20 (0.08 to 0.54). The risk reductions remained significant after additional correction for the presence of rheumatoid factor and erosions. After correction for hypertension, diabetes and hypercholesterolemia, 'MTX or SSZ ever' and 'MTX, SSZ and HCQ ever' showed significant CVD risk reduction. Rheumatoid factor positivity and erosions both increased CVD risk, with ORs of 2.04 (1.02 to 4.07) and 2.36 (0.92 to 6.08), respectively. MTX and, to a lesser extent, SSZ were associated with significantly lower CVD risk compared to RA patients who never used SSZ, HCQ or MTX. We hypothesize that DMARD use, in particular MTX use, results in powerful suppression of inflammation, thereby reducing the development of atherosclerosis and subsequently clinically overt CVD.