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Investigating changes in disease activity as a mediator of cardiovascular risk reduction with methotrexate use in rheumatoid arthritis


Objective Examine the association of methotrexate (MTX) use with cardiovascular disease (CVD) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) using marginal structural models (MSM) and determine if CVD risk is mediated through modification of disease activity.

Methods We identified incident CVD events (coronary artery disease (CAD), stroke, heart failure (HF) hospitalisation, CVD death) within a multicentre, prospective cohort of US Veterans with RA. A 28-joint Disease Activity Score with C-reactive protein (DAS28-CRP) was collected at regular visits and medication exposures were determined by linking to pharmacy dispensing data. MSMs were used to estimate the treatment effect of MTX on risk of incident CVD, accounting for time-varying confounders between receiving MTX and CVD events. A mediation analysis was performed to estimate the indirect effects of methotrexate on CVD risk through modification of RA disease activity.

Results Among 2044 RA patients (90% male, mean age 63.9 years, baseline DAS28-CRP 3.6), there were 378 incident CVD events. Using MSM, MTX use was associated with a 24% reduced risk of composite CVD events (HR 0.76, 95% CI 0.58 to 0.99) including a 57% reduction in HF hospitalisations (HR 0.43, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.77). Individual associations with CAD, stroke and CVD death were not statistically significant. In mediation analyses, there was no evidence of indirect effects of MTX on CVD risk through disease activity modification (HR 1.03, 95% CI 0.80 to 1.32).

Conclusions MTX use in RA was associated with a reduced risk of CVD events, particularly HF-related hospitalisations. These associations were not mediated through reductions in RA disease activity, suggesting alternative MTX-related mechanisms may modify CVD risk in this population.

  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • methotrexate
  • cardiovascular disease

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request from the VA Rheumatoid Arthritis Registry and Biorepository after obtaining the required ethical approval.

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