When compared to the general population, patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have an overall standard mortality ratio of approximately two, with more than 50% of premature deaths attributable to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Moreover, RA patients were twice as likely to experience sudden cardiac death (SCD) compared with non-RA subjects, as a putative consequence of an increased incidence of malignant arrhythmias. Accordingly, mounting data indicate that in patients affected with RA the risk of developing rhythm disturbances, particularly tachyarrhythmias, is high. Although a number of papers reviewing the problem of cardiovascular involvement in RA are currently available, the main focus is on the mechanisms of accelerated atherosclerosis and related ischemic consequences in the clinical setting. On the contrary, only little consideration has been specifically given to the arrhythmic risk so far. In the light of this concern, in the present paper we reviewed the topic with the aim to put together the apparently fragmentary existing information, with particular attention to the putative role of chronic systemic inflammation characterizing the disease. In fact, although the underlying mechanisms accounting the arrhythmogenic substrate in RA are probably intricate, the leading role seems to be played by inflammatory activation, able to promote arrhythmias either indirectly, by accelerating the development of structural CVD, and directly by affecting cardiac electrophysiology. In this view, lowering inflammatory burden through an increasingly tight control of disease activity may represent the most effective intervention to reduce arrhythmic risk and prevent life-threatening complications in these patients.
Keywords: Arrhythmic risk; Atrial fibrillation; Rheumatoid arthritis; Sudden death; Systemic inflammation.
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