Open Rheumatology Journal
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© Pope et al. Introduction: This study evaluated the prevalence and progression of subclinical carotid artery atherosclerosis in active rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Methods: Carotid arteries of RA patients were scanned using 3D ultrasound at baseline and 24 weeks for total plaque area, vessel wall volume, and intima-media thickness (IMT), as well as arterial stiffness measured using pulse wave velocity. Variables related to inflammation, lipids and cardiovascular (CV) risk were assessed for associations with plaque progression. Of 195 screened patients, 31 met inclusion criteria (66 Swollen joint count (SJC) plus 68 Tender joint count (TJC)≥8 OR SJC plus TJC≥4 with elevated acute phase reactants) and were enrolled (27 female; mean age 59.3±9.8years). Patients using lipid lowering drugs and uncontrolled comorbidities were excluded. Results: Atherosclerotic plaque occurred in 35% and arterial wall hypertrophy (IMT≥0.6mm) in 86% of patients. Most (68%) had an abnormal lipid profile characterized by reduced HDL and/or increased total cholesterol/HDL index, which was adversely affected by disease activity. Stepwise binary logistic regression analysis showed that Framingham risk score (OR=1.155, 95%CI:1.002-1.332, p=0.046) and ESR (OR=1.148, 95%CI:1.015-1.299, p=0.028) predicted plaque burden most strongly. Plaque progression was significantly associated with baseline higher hsCRP, ESR, and heavy smoking, but only hsCRP predicted plaque growth in multivariate regression analysis (p=0.004); and hsCRP was related to higher disease activity (r=0.443, p=0.016), LDL (r=0.544, p=0.007), and smoking (r=0.384, p=0.04). Conclusion: RA-related inflammation contributed to augmented CV burden in RA and might mediate its effect on atherosclerosis through hsCRP and modulation of the traditional CV risk factors, such as dyslipidemia.
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