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How early in the course of rheumatoid arthritis does the excess cardiovascular risk appear?
  1. Anne M Kerola1,2,3,
  2. Markku J Kauppi2,4,
  3. Tuomas Kerola3,
  4. Tuomo V M Nieminen3,4,5
  1. 1Medical School, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  2. 2Division of Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine, Päijät-Häme Central Hospital, Lahti, Finland
  3. 3Division of Cardiology, Department of Internal Medicine, Päijät-Häme Central Hospital, Lahti, Finland
  4. 4School of Medicine, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland
  5. 5Division of Cardiology, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Tuomo V M Nieminen, Division of Cardiology, Helsinki University Central Hospital, P O Box 340, Helsinki FI-00029, Finland; tuomo.nieminen{at}iki.fi

Abstract

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease which is associated with an increased cardiovascular (CV) burden. Whether the risk is already present at the time of RA diagnosis remains a key area of debate. The aim of this review was to evaluate the existence of both subclinical CV changes, including endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis, CV risk factors, as well as CV disease manifestations such as coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure and CV death prior to RA diagnosis and during the first few years of the disease. The state of the endothelial function remains controversial in patients with newly diagnosed RA. Studies with impaired brachial artery vasodilatory responses at baseline showed a reversal of the dysfunction after 6–12 months of anti-inflammatory therapy. Morphological evidence of arterial wall atherosclerosis, measured by carotid artery intima-media thickness or the prevalence of carotid plaques, was already present during the first year following RA diagnosis. The risk of coronary heart disease and myocardial infarction is increased even prior to and, at the latest, within 1 year of the clinical onset of RA. The prevalence of hypertension was similar among patients with RA and controls. CV mortality may not increase within the first years of RA diagnosis. In conclusion, the CV risk seems to increase sooner after the RA diagnosis than previously thought. In addition to systematic CV risk assessment, patients with early RA might benefit from being targeted with stricter than conventional CV risk prevention and intervention.

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