Cardiovascular effects of biological versus conventional synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drug therapy in treatment-naïve, early rheumatoid arthritis

Ann Rheum Dis. 2020 Nov;79(11):1414-1422. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2020-217653. Epub 2020 Aug 28.


Objectives: To determine whether patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (ERA) have cardiovascular disease (CVD) that is modifiable with disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) therapy, comparing first-line etanercept (ETN) + methotrexate (MTX) with MTX strategy.

Methods: Patients from a phase IV ERA trial randomised to ETN+MTX or MTX strategy±month 6 escalation to ETN+MTX, and with no CVD and maximum one traditional risk factor underwent cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) at baseline, years 1 and 2. Thirty matched controls underwent CMR. Primary outcome measure was aortic distensibility (AD) between controls and ERA, and baseline to year 1 AD change in ERA. Secondary analyses between and within ERA groups performed. Additional outcome measures included left ventricular (LV) mass and myocardial extracellular volume (ECV).

Results: Eighty-one patients recruited. In ERA versus controls, respectively, baseline (geometric mean, 95% CI) AD was significantly lower (3.0×10-3 mm Hg-1 (2.7-3.3) vs 4.4×10-3 mm Hg-1 (3.7-5.2), p<0.001); LV mass significantly lower (78.2 g (74.0-82.7), n=81 vs 92.9 g (84.8-101.7), n=30, p<0.01); and ECV increased (27.1% (26.4-27.9), n=78 vs 24.9% (23.8-26.1), n=30, p<0.01). Across all patients, AD improved significantly from baseline to year 1 (3.0×10-3 mm Hg-1 (2.7-3.4) to 3.6×10-3 mm Hg-1 (3.1-4.1), respectively, p<0.01), maintained at year 2. The improvement in AD did not differ between the two treatment arms and disease activity state (Disease Activity Score with 28 joint count)-erythrocyte sedimentation rate-defined responders versus non-responders.

Conclusion: We report the first evidence of vascular and myocardial abnormalities in an ERA randomised controlled trial cohort and show improvement with DMARD therapy. The type of DMARD (first-line tumour necrosis factor-inhibitors or MTX) and clinical response to therapy did not affect CVD markers.

Trial registration number: ISRCTN: ISRCTN89222125; NCT01295151.

Keywords: arthritis; atherosclerosis; cardiovascular diseases; magnetic resonance imaging; rheumatoid; tumor necrosis factors.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase IV
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Etanercept / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vascular Stiffness / drug effects


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Etanercept
  • Methotrexate

Associated data