The role of endothelial function and its assessment in rheumatoid arthritis

Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2010 May;6(5):253-61. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2010.44. Epub 2010 Mar 30.


Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have a reduced life expectancy when compared with the general population, largely attributable to cardiovascular disease. Factors that contribute to this increased cardiovascular risk include traditional risk factors, which account for only part of the excess, along with manifestations of the disease itself. RA is characterized by inflammation, which also is a key component in the development of atherosclerosis. Inflammation leads to the activation of endothelial cells, which, through an increase in the expression of leukocyte adhesion molecules, promotes a pro-atherosclerotic environment. Endothelial dysfunction is an early preclinical marker of atherosclerosis, and is commonly found in patients with RA. Several methods are available for the assessment of endothelial function, such as flow-mediated dilatation and laser Doppler flowmetry combined with iontophoresis, each with its own advantages and limitations. Studies have shown that endothelial dysfunction in RA is closely associated with inflammation, and therapeutic reduction of inflammation leads to improvements in endothelial function. As such, assessments of endothelial function could prove to be useful tools in the identification and monitoring of cardiovascular risk in patients with RA. Given the increase in cardiovascular mortality associated with RA, effective management must involve prevention of cardiovascular risk, in addition to control of disease activity and inflammation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / physiopathology*
  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors