Objective: To compare the frequency of traditional cardiovascular (CV) risk factors in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) compared to non-RA subjects, and examine their impact on the risk of developing selected CV events (myocardial infarction (MI), heart failure (HF) and CV death) in these two groups.
Methods: We examined a population-based incidence cohort of subjects with RA (defined according to the 1987 American College of Rheumatology criteria), and an age- and sex-matched non-RA cohort. All subjects were followed longitudinally through their complete community medical records, until death, migration, or 1 January 2001. Clinical CV risk factors and outcomes were defined using validated criteria. The χ2 test was used to compare the frequency of each CV risk factor at baseline. Person-years methods were used to estimate the rate of occurrence of each CV risk factor during follow-up. Cox models were used to examine the influence of CV risk factors on the development of CV outcomes.
Results: A total of 603 RA and 603 non-RA subjects (73% female; mean age 58 years) were followed for a mean of 15 and 17 years (total: 8842 and 10 101 person-years), respectively. At baseline, RA subjects were significantly more likely to be former or current smokers when compared to non-RA subjects (p<0.001). Male gender, smoking, and personal cardiac history had weaker associations with CV events among RA subjects, compared to non-RA subjects. There was no significant difference between RA and non-RA subjects in the risk imparted with respect to the other CV risk factors (ie, family cardiac history, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, body mass index, or diabetes mellitus).
Conclusion: While some traditional CV risk factors imparted similar risk among RA compared with non-RA subjects, others (ie, male gender, smoking and personal cardiac history) imparted significantly less risk for the development of CV disease. These differences in the overall impact of traditional CV risk factors suggest that strategies to prevent CV disease and mortality focused solely on controlling traditional CV risk factors may be relatively less beneficial in RA subjects than in the general population. Further research is needed to determine optimal approaches to reducing CV morbidity and mortality in persons with RA.
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Funding: This work was supported in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, NIAMS (R01 AR46849) and the National Institutes of Health (AR-30582) US Public Health Service.
Competing interests: None declared