Introduction: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a multi-organ inflammatory disorder associated with high cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. We sought to assess cardiac involvement using a comprehensive cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (cMRI) approach and to determine its association with disease characteristics in RA patients without symptomatic cardiac disease.
Methods: RA patients with no history and/or clinical findings of systemic or pulmonary hypertension, coronary artery disease, severe valvular heart disease, atrial fibrillation, diabetes mellitus, or echocardiographic abnormalities underwent contrast-enhanced cMRI on a 1.5T scanner. Adenosine triphosphate was used to assess perfusion defects due to microvascular impairment or ischemia, and delayed enhanced imaging was obtained for the assessment of myocardial inflammation/fibrosis. We explored the associations of cMRI abnormalities with RA disease activity and severity measures.
Results: Eighteen patients (78% female) with a mean age of 57 ± 10 years were studied. Eight patients (45%) demonstrated a myocardial abnormality. Perfusion defects under pharmacologic stress were seen in two patients (11%), one of whom had a circumferential subendocardial perfusion defect and one had a non-segmental subendocardial perfusion defect. Seven patients (39%) were found to have delayed enhancement, only one of whom also demonstrated a perfusion defect. Mean disease activity score (DAS)28 was significantly higher in the group with delayed enhancement compared to the group without by an average of 1.32 DAS28 units (4.77 vs. 3.44 units, respectively; P = 0.011). Corresponding trends to statistical significance were noted in systemic inflammatory markers, with both C-reactive protein (CRP) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) quantitatively higher in the group with delayed enhancement. Other RA characteristics, such as disease duration, autoantibody status, and current treatments were not significantly associated with cardiac involvement.
Conclusions: Myocardial abnormalities, as detected by cMRI, were frequent in RA patients without known cardiac disease. Abnormal cMRI findings were associated with higher RA disease activity, suggesting a role for inflammation in the pathogenesis of myocardial involvement in RA.