NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Men older than age 50 with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are at increased risk of suffering major heart-related events, research shows, and the level of RA disease activity predicts these events independent of traditional cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, researchers found.

In 282 men, Dr. Subhash Banerjee, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and colleagues examined the association between RA and various heart-related events such as heart attack and other “acute coronary syndromes”, heart failure, stroke, death and need for a heart procedure such as angioplasty or surgery.

Overall, 92 men (about 33 percent) experienced a major cardiac event during an average follow-up of 4.4 years.

Results showed that 54 percent of men with high disease activity had cardiovascular events, compared to 26 percent of those with low disease activity, a significant difference. Patients with high disease activity also had a lower average event-free period compared to those with low or moderate disease activity (19 years versus 35 and 30 years, respectively).

A high RA disease activity score was a significant predictor of cardiovascular events independent of such traditional risk factors as age, gender, diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and history of blood vessel disease, Banerjee and colleagues report.

Based on these findings and others, the researchers conclude that “it is possible to speculate that early aggressive control of chronic inflammation and primary and secondary modification of traditional cardiovascular risk factors in patients with RA may result in improved survival and lower cardiovascular event rates.”

SOURCE: American Journal of Cardiology, April 15, 2008.