BACKGROUND: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Endothelial dysfunction represents the earliest stage of atherosclerosis. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the influence of chronic inflammatory state on endothelial function in patients with RA by measuring endothelial reactivity in young patients with RA with low disease activity and without traditional cardiovascular risk factors. METHODS: Brachial flow mediated vasodilatation (FMV), assessed by non-invasive ultrasound, was evaluated in 32 young to middle aged patients with RA (age </=59 years), with DAS28 </=3.2 and without overt cardiovascular disease, and in 28 age and sex matched controls. RESULTS: Mean (SD) FMV was significantly lower in patients than in controls (3.2 (1.3)% v 5.7 (2.0)%; p<0.001), inversely related to low density lipoprotein cholesterol (r = -0.45, p<0.05) and C reactive protein (CRP), expressed as the value at the moment of ultrasound evaluation (r = -0.44, p<0.05), as the average of CRP levels evaluated at different times during the disease (r = -0.47, p<0.05), or as the average of >/=4 determinations multiplied by the disease duration (r = -0.40, p<0.05). In a multivariate regression model, a lower brachial flow mediated vasodilatation was independently predicted by low density lipoprotein cholesterol (beta = -0.40, p<0.05), average CRP levels multiplied by the disease duration (beta = -0.44, p<0.05), and brachial artery diameter (beta = -0.28, p<0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Young to middle aged patients with RA with low disease activity, free from cardiovascular risk factors and overt cardiovascular disease, have an altered endothelial reactivity that seems to be primarily related to the disease associated chronic inflammatory condition.
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