Objective: To perform a systematic review and meta-analysis to examine whether rheumatic disease is associated with an increased carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT; increasingly used as a surrogate marker for atherosclerosis) when compared with healthy control subjects.
Methods and results: A prespecified search strategy was used to identify relevant studies in the MEDLINE and EMBASE databases (January 1, 1986 to December 31, 2008). Methodological quality was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa score for observational studies. A total of 68 controlled comparisons from 60 different studies were reviewed: 25 (37%) on rheumatoid arthritis, 24 (35%) on systemic lupus erythematosus, 6 (9%) on systemic sclerosis, and 13 (19%) on other rheumatic diseases. Random-effects meta-regression analysis was performed. The estimated summary effect size between control and study subject CIMT measurement comparisons, with preexisting cardiovascular disease excluded, was 0.64 (95% CI, 0.46 to 0.82). This represented an overall absolute mean difference of 0.06 mm (95% CI, 0.05 to 0.06 mm). Preexisting cardiovascular disease, rheumatic disease type, and disease duration contributed to heterogeneity.
Conclusion: Accelerated atherosclerosis is a common complication of autoimmune rheumatic diseases, with early changes seen even in pediatric patients. CIMT was significantly increased in rheumatic disease populations. Future studies need to use a standardized protocol to ensure clinically meaningful results when measuring CIMT as a surrogate for premature atherosclerosis.