Background: Cardiovascular (CV) disease, the most common cause of mortality in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is largely attributable to accelerated atherosclerosis. Carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) has been approved as a surrogate marker of early atherosclerosis.
Objectives: The aim of the study was to assess cIMT in RA patients lacking concomitant comorbidities potentially influencing cIMT value.
Methods: The study group consisted of 74 RA patients, without diagnosed heart or kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, or current smoking (mean age, 46.4 [SD, 10.6] years; range, 19-70 years). Assessment of cIMT was determined by high-resolution B-mode ultrasonography in RA patients and 31 control subjects (mean age, 42.6 [SD, 8.0] years; range, 27-59 years).
Results: The mean maximum cIMT value was significantly greater in RA patients than in control subjects (0.73 [SD, 0.14] vs 0.59 [SD, 0.12] mm; P < 0.0001). In RA patients, cIMT correlated positively with a number of immunological and inflammatory parameters and also with amino-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP), age, metabolic variables (serum cholesterol, creatinine, cystatin C). In multiple linear regression analysis, significant association was found between cIMT and NT-proBNP and age. Patients without atherosclerosis (cIMT <0.6 mm) were younger and had significantly lower concentrations of NT-proBNP and total cholesterol, as well as higher estimated glomerular filtration rate. The course of RA in patients without atherosclerosis was characterized by shorter disease duration, lower tender joint count, and C-reactive protein.
Conclusions: Values of cIMT were significantly greater in RA compared with control subjects. Features of RA, such as extra-articular manifestations, erosions, high inflammatory parameters, and long disease duration, even in the absence of traditional clinical CV risk factors, were associated with greater cIMT, suggesting an unfavorable CV risk profile.