People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are more likely to develop atherosclerosis, a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the heart, according to new research.
The study, “Imaging atherosclerosis in rheumatoid arthritis: evidence for increased prevalence, altered phenotype and a link between systemic and localised plaque inflammation,” appeared in the journal Scientific Reports.
In RA, chronic inflammation is thought to drive increased cardiovascular risk through accelerated atherosclerosis — hardening and narrowing of the arteries caused by high blood pressure, smoking or high cholesterol. This leads to the formation of plaques, and often causes heart attacks, strokes and peripheral vascular disease.
“Rheumatoid arthritis is an incredibly debilitating condition that affects more than 400,000 people within the U.K.,” Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, said in a news release. “The condition can not only limit a person’s ability to live their everyday life to the full, but it can also put them at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Sarah Skeoch and Ian Bruce of the University of Manchester’s Arthritis Research UK Centre for Epidemiology used advanced imaging techniques to identify the increased risk of cardiovascular problems among RA patients. Their study aimed to find out if chronic inflammation drives a higher risk of cardiovascular problems in these patients by accelerating atherosclerosis.
The researchers found that plaque was more prevalent in RA patients, who also had a higher prevalence of plaque calcification. In addition, they found higher levels of two specific biomarkers — hs-CRP and IL6 — which may be associated with greater plaque presence and inflammation.
The results further validate evidence that a combination of these two biomarkers increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases in the general population, and that excessive inflammation contributes to increased risk for RA patients.
“This study not only reinforces the link between rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease, but the results can also help us understand what causes atherosclerosis in both patients with rheumatoid arthritis and the general public,” concludes the study, which also shows how new imaging techniques can be used to understand the influence of disease activity and anti-inflammatory therapies on atherosclerosis in RA.