Objective: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) associates with increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality that is due to both traditional and novel cardiovascular risk factors. Hypertension (HT), one of the most common risk factors for cardiovascular disease, is highly prevalent in RA. The effects of long-term glucocorticoid (GC) therapy on blood pressure have not been established yet. This study examined whether GC exposure associates with HT in patients with RA.
Methods: Four hundred consecutive RA patients with detailed clinical and laboratory assessments were categorized into three groups according to GC exposure: no or limited exposure (N/L-E); a low-dose (< 7.5 mg) long-term exposure (LD/LT-E); and medium-dose (> or = 7.5 mg) long-term exposure (MD/LT-E). The association of GC exposure with HT was evaluated using logistic regression analysis.
Results: HT was more prevalent in the MD/LT-E group (84.7%) than the LD/LT-E or N/L-E groups (70.7 and 67.3%, respectively, P = 0.028). Logistic regression revealed increased odds for HT when comparing MD/LT-E with N/L-E, after adjustment for HT risk factors [odds ratio (OR) = 2.57, 95% CI 1.01-6.56, P = 0.049] and RA disease characteristics (OR = 3.64, 95% CI: 1.36-9.77, P = 0.01).
Conclusions: MD/LT GC exposure associates with a very high prevalence of HT. This appears to be independent of other risk factors for HT or of channelling bias due to disease severity, even though the latter cannot be excluded given the cross-sectional nature of our study. RA patients in this GC exposure group should be particularly targeted for early identification and aggressive management of HT.