Background: There is substantial evidence of excess cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, but the related studies showed important variations in the estimation of the risk. We conducted a meta-analysis to evaluate more accurately the incidence of cardiovascular events, and the excess of cardiovascular risk in a population of RA patients.
Methods: The authors searched for observational studies accounting for the number of myocardial infarction or stroke events, using Medline, and congress abstracts published until February 2006. The populations studied were adults and RA diagnosis was based on the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria. We calculated the incidence of myocardial infarction and cerebrovascular fatal events in RA patients and estimated the cardiovascular risk increase for RA patients compared with the control group.
Results: 17 publications and abstracts were identified, 15 were selected for the meta-analysis (two publications were excluded because of the lack of person-years information). The incidence of fatal myocardial infarction was 13.3 for 1000 RA patients-year (IC95%=[13-13.6]). The incidence of fatal cerebrovascular accident was 4.5 for 1000 RA patients-year (IC95%=[4.3-4.7]). Risk of myocardial ischemia in RA patients was about 1.63 compared to the general population (OR=1.63, IC95%=[1.34-2]). No excess was found for the risk of stroke event in RA patients.
Conclusion: RA patients were reported to present an excess risk of fatal myocardial infarction compared to the general population. The prevention of cardiovascular complications, including management of cardiovascular risk factors and control of systemic inflammation, should be taken into account by the rheumatologist.