The excess risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) associated with inflammatory rheumatic diseases has long been recognized. Patients with established rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have higher mortality compared with the general population. Over 50% of premature deaths in RA are attributable to CVD. Excess mortality in SLE follows a bimodal pattern, with the early peak predominantly a consequence of active lupus or its complications, and the later peak largely attributable to atherosclerosis. Patients with RA or SLE are also at increased risk of nonfatal ischemic heart disease. The management and outcome of myocardial infarction and congestive heart failure in patients with RA or SLE differs from that in the general population. Traditional CVD risk factors (TRF) include increasing age, male gender, smoking, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes. Whereas some TRFs are elevated in patients with RA or SLE, several are not, and others exhibit paradoxical relationships. Risk scores developed for the general population based on TRFs are likely, therefore, to underestimate CVD risk in RA and SLE. Until additional research and disease-specific risk prediction tools are available, current evidence supports aggressive treatment of disease activity, and careful screening for and management of TRFs.