Atherosclerosis in rheumatoid arthritis: Morphologic evidence obtained by carotid ultrasound




Recent studies have suggested increased cardiovascular disease among patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). We undertook this study to obtain morphologic evidence of subclinical atherosclerosis in RA patients.


We used high-resolution B-mode ultrasound to compare carotid artery intima-media wall thickness (IMT) between 53 postmenopausal women with RA and 53 controls matched by age, sex, and menopause status. No subject in either group had a history of atherosclerosis or its complications. We investigated the association between IMT and relevant clinical and therapeutic variables, including the impact of low-dose corticosteroid therapy (≤10 mg/day prednisolone).


The mean ± SD IMT of the left and right common carotid arteries in RA patients was significantly greater than that in controls (0.77 ± 0.09 mm versus 0.68 ± 0.14 mm; P < 0.001). Early RA (duration ≤1 year) was associated with lesser IMT than was RA of longer duration (0.72 ± 0.03 mm versus 0.78 ± 0.01 mm; P < 0.04). Prednisolone use was not associated with increased IMT (0.78 ± 0.02 mm in nonusers versus 0.76 ± 0.01 mm in users; P = 0.38).


Our data indicate that RA patients have an ultrasonic marker of early atherosclerosis consistent with an increased risk for atherosclerosis.