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Rheumatoid arthritis patients 'at an increased risk of atherosclerosis'

Published on 25 April 2017
Rheumatoid arthritis patients 'at an increased risk of atherosclerosis'

A new study has offered evidence that rheumatoid arthritis need to be aware of their elevated risk of developing atherosclerosis, a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the heart.

Led by Sarah Skeoch and Professor Ian Bruce at the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Epidemiology at the University of Manchester, the research utilised advanced imaging techniques to highlight the greater risk of cardiovascular problems among people with rheumatoid arthritis.

A greater risk of heart problems
Published in the medical journal Scientific Reports, the study aimed to provide evidence that chronic inflammation drives increased cardiovascular risk in these patients by accelerating atherosclerosis - a condition characterised by the buildup of fatty substances called plaques in the arteries - while also leading to the development of higher-risk plaque types.

It was found that plaque was more prevalent in those with rheumatoid arthritis, with a higher prevalence of plaque calcification also noted, despite generally similar plaque sizes. It was also shown that higher levels of the biomarkers hs-CRP and IL6 can be linked with greater plaque presence and inflammation.

Implications of these insights
These findings add credence to the theory that a combination of IL6 and CRP represents a significant driver of cardiovascular risk in the general population, as well as the hypothesis that excessive inflammation contributes to increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Moreover, the study shows how modern imaging techniques can be used to gain a better understanding of how the influence of disease activity and anti-inflammatory therapies on atherosclerosis in rheumatoid arthritis could be modified.

The researchers concluded: "This study confirms increased prevalence of atherosclerosis in rheumatoid arthritis and provides data to support the hypothesis that patients have a high-risk plaque phenotype."

Arthritis Research UK's view
Dr Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, said: "Rheumatoid arthritis is an incredibly debilitating condition that affects more than 400,000 people within the UK. 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.

"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."

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