Objective. To measure the extent of subclinical atherosclerosis in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) compared with controls, and to evaluate any potential vascular risk factors.
Methods. Forty RA patients were compared with an age- and sex-matched control group. Non-invasive vascular tests, i.e. carotid duplex scanning [measuring common carotid artery intima–media thickness (IMT)], ankle–brachial blood pressure index (ABPI) and QT dispersion on ECG (QTD), were performed. Traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure, blood sugar, lipids and steroid usage were assessed.
Results. The average IMT (s.e.) in RA patients was 0.73 (0.03) mm, compared with 0.62 (0.03) mm in the control group (P=0.01, Mann–Whitney). Ten out of 40 RA patients (25%) had an ABPI < 1.0 compared with 1/40 (2.5%) in the control group (P=0.007, Fisher's). QTD was higher in RA patients; mean (s.e.) 55 (2.70) ms compared with 40 (2.50) ms in the control group (P < 0.001, t-test). There were no significant differences in the prevalence of high blood pressure, diabetes or lipid profiles. However, patients on steroids had a higher mean QTD (s.e.): 63.5 (4) compared with 48 (2.7) ms in those patients who had not received long-term steroids (P=0.003, t-test).
Conclusion. RA patients have an increased risk of subclinical vascular disease as was shown by a higher prevalence of carotid disease, peripheral arterial disease and increased QTD. Among traditional risk factors we found a history of steroid usage to be one of the potential risk factors.