Introduction: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is associated with a high cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, whereas arterial hypertension is a major modifiable CVD risk factor with still unclear prevalence in RA disease. We conducted a comprehensive study on hypertension characteristics evaluating for the first time out-of-office blood pressure (BP) in a typical contemporary RA cohort.
Methods: Assessment of office and out-of-office BP (when office systolic/diastolic BP was >129/79) and vascular studies including evaluation of aortic stiffness, carotid hypertrophy/plaques and ankle-brachial index, were performed in 214 consecutive, consenting RA patients free of CVD (aged 58.4 ± 12.3 years, 82% women). As comparators regarding office hypertension measurements, data from 214 subjects (1:1 matched for age and gender with the RA patients) derived from a cohort designed to assess the prevalence of hypertension in the general population were used.
Results: The prevalence of declared known hypertension in the RA population was 44%. Of the remaining RA patients, 2 in every 5 individuals had abnormal office BP (systolic/diastolic >139/89 mmHg), contributing to almost double the prevalence of declared/office hypertension compared to the general matched population (67% vs. 34%). Out-of-office (home or ambulatory 24 hour) BP measurements revealed that: (i) a 54% prevalence of actual hypertension in RA, in other words almost 10% of the patients were unaware of having hypertension and (ii) 29% of the RA patients with known hypertension were not well controlled. Actual hypertension was positively associated with age and body mass index, and inversely with the use of biologic drugs. Overall, almost 1 out of 5 presented the 'white coat' phenomenon. An intermediately compromised vascular phenotype was evident in this "white coat" subgroup (lying between patients with sustained normotension and sustained hypertension) in terms of aortic stiffness, carotid hypertrophy and ankle-brachial index, even after adjustment for confounders.
Conclusion: Beyond any doubt on the basis of out-of-office evaluation, arterial hypertension in RA has a high prevalence, low awareness and poor control, as well as substantial and vascular damage-associated "white coat" phenomenon. Thus, correct diagnosis and effective treatment of hypertension is of key importance in RA for CVD risk reduction.