Is small artery elasticity decreased prior to intima-media thickening in patients with longstanding rheumatoid arthritis?

Helmy J Hinkema, Hans L A Nienhuis, Lodewijk de Groot, Andries J Smit, Arie M van Roon, Marc Bijl, Marcel D Posthumus
Journal of Rheumatology 2011, 38 (10): 2133-40

OBJECTIVE: To determine small artery elasticity (SAE) in patients with longstanding rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in comparison to healthy controls, and to investigate its relation to markers of endothelial cell activation, disease activity, joint damage, and the presence of atherosclerosis.

METHODS: Forty-nine patients with RA and 50 age- and sex-matched healthy controls were studied. Traditional cardiovascular risk factors and disease-related factors were recorded. SAE was measured noninvasively by pulse-wave analysis (PWA). Endothelial activation was assessed by measuring levels of soluble vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (sVCAM-1) and von Willebrand factor (vWF). Carotid intima-media thickness (IMT), as an indicator of subclinical atherosclerosis, was assessed using ultrasonography.

RESULTS: Patients with RA had higher body mass index, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels and were more often cigarette smokers compared to controls. SAE was decreased in RA patients compared to controls and was inversely related with age, smoking, blood pressure, vWF, sVCAM-1, high sensitivity C-reactive protein, and IMT. Presence of RA was independently related to SAE in multivariate linear regression analysis. SAE was inversely related with the Health Assessment Questionnaire score. No correlation was found between SAE and other disease activity markers and damage. IMT in patients and controls was not different.

CONCLUSION: Small artery elasticity was decreased in patients with longstanding RA. The presence of RA was independently associated with SAE. Whereas IMT in patients with RA was not increased, we hypothesize that endothelial dysfunction, reflected by decreased SAE, is present prior to IMT thickening in these patients.

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