Background: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic disease involving many organ systems and is frequently accompanied by cardiac alterations. However, there is considerable disagreement concerning the cardiac abnormalities found in patients with RA. The purpose of our investigation was to determine, by a non-invasive method such as echocardiography, the nature and extent of cardiac involvement in RA patients with no symptoms of cardiac disease, in comparison with a control sample.
Methods: We selected 35 patients affected by rheumatoid arthritis (five men, 30 women), aged 51 +/- 11 years. No patient had either symptoms of cardiac disease or extra cardiac complaint. As a control group we studied 52 volunteers, aged 51 +/- 12 years, randomly selected among a larger group of subjects with no symptoms, signs and/or clinical findings of extra cardiac diseases. All were in sinus rhythm and without any cardiac symptom. Standard two-dimensional, M-mode and Doppler echocardiographic examination was carried out on each subject.
Results: In RA patients we found a higher prevalence of several abnormalities. We found no statistically significant differences between the groups of RA patients based on the stage and duration of disease. We found no correlation between cardiac abnormalities and inflammatory indices or drug therapy.
Discussion: At least three alterations seem to be typical of RA patients in the absence of any symptom of cardiac disease: (1) posterior pericardial effusion, (2) aortic root alterations and (3) valvular thickening. The prevalence of MVP is controversial and needs further investigation. These alterations are variously combined in each patient, and for this reason we think that it is possible to represent such a heart involvement as 'silent rheumatoid heart disease'. Moreover the knowledge of the presence of unrecognised cardiac abnormalities can be very important for the correct assessment and management of the RA patient.