From the Journals

Cardiovascular risk score multipliers suggested for rheumatic diseases



A re-evaluation of cardiovascular risk management guidelines intended for use by rheumatologists may be warranted based on findings from a recently published population-based study of the risks for 12 different cardiovascular disease outcomes in patients with autoimmune diseases.

“The notion that patients with rheumatic diseases are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases has been ongoing for many years,” Nathalie Conrad, PhD, and coauthors wrote in a viewpoint article in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

This has “sparked much debate concerning whether and when to initiate cardiovascular prevention therapies,” they said.

Dr. Conrad was first author on the population-based study published in The Lancet in August 2022 that used linked primary and secondary care records from datasets in the U.K. Clinical Practice Research Datalink involving individuals who were recently diagnosed with any of 19 different autoimmune diseases during an 18-year period stretching from 2000 to 2017 but free of cardiovascular disease until at least 12 months after incident autoimmune disease. “Every single autoimmune disorder we looked at was associated with increased cardiovascular risk,” Dr. Conrad, of the department of public health and primary care at Catholic University Leuven (Belgium), said in an interview.

Not only was the risk for cardiovascular disease increased for people with rheumatic diseases by an average of 68%, compared with people without rheumatic diseases, but also the whole spectrum of cardiovascular disorders was seen.

“We saw increases in thromboembolic diseases, degenerative heart diseases, and heart inflammation,” Dr. Conrad said.

Large datasets examined

The idea for the epidemiologic study came from mounting evidence for cardiovascular disease risk among people with autoimmune diseases but not enough to support the design of specific prevention measures.

Dr. Conrad’s Lancet study examined electronic health records of 446,449 individuals with autoimmune diseases and matched them to 2,102,830 individuals without autoimmune disease. This included 160,217 individuals with seven rheumatic diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, vasculitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjögren’s syndrome, ankylosing spondylitis, and systemic sclerosis.

In addition to looking for any evidence of cardiovascular disease, Dr. Conrad and coauthors looked at 12 specific outcomes: atherosclerotic diseases, peripheral arterial disease, stroke or transient ischemic attack, heart failure, valve disorders, thromboembolic disease, atrial fibrillation or flutter, conduction system disease, supraventricular arrhythmias, aortic aneurysm, myocarditis and pericarditis, and infective endocarditis.

CV risk in rheumatic diseases

As might be expected, “greater magnitudes of risk” were seen for individuals with systemic lupus erythematosus and systemic sclerosis than for people in the general population, with the chances of cardiovascular disease being two to four times higher. But what perhaps wasn’t expected was that all rheumatic diseases carried an increased risk for heart or vascular-related problems.

Furthermore, the increased risk could not solely be accounted for by the presence of traditional risk factors, such as blood pressure, smoking, or obesity.

“The background here is that any context of systemic inflammation would be predicted to lead to an increased vascular risk,” Iain McInnes, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and rheumatology at the University of Glasgow, said in an interview. Dr. McInnes was a coauthor of the viewpoint article in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

“The implication is that there may well be increased vascular risk across the whole range of immune-mediated inflammatory diseases,” he added. “We should not, however, infer the magnitude of risk will be the same for each disease.”

What is more intriguing, Dr. McInnes said, is that “we don’t know yet whether there’s one final common pathway that leads to the blood vessel being damaged or whether different diseases might contribute different pathways.”

He added: “A question for the future is to see what are those mechanisms that drive risk across different diseases? And the reason that matters, of course, is that we might want to think about the effectiveness of different therapeutic interventions.”


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