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Cardiovascular co-morbidity in patients with rheumatic diseases

Johan Frostegård

Author Affiliations

Institute of Environmental Medicine, Unit of Immunology and Chronic Disease, Karolinska Institutet, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2011, 13:225  doi:10.1186/ar3326

Published: 30 June 2011


During recent years atherosclerosis, the major cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD), has been recognised as a chronic inflammatory condition in which rupture of atherosclerotic lesions appears to play a major role. The risk of CVD is raised in many rheumatic diseases. This risk is high in systemic lupus erythematosus - as much as a 50-times increase among middle-aged women has been reported. Studies on CVD and atherosclerosis in rheumatic disease could thus provide interesting information about CVD and atherosclerosis in addition to being an important clinical problem. A combination of traditional and nontraditional risk factors accounts for the increased risk of CVD and atherosclerosis in rheumatic disease. One interesting possibility is that atherosclerotic lesions in rheumatic disease are more prone to rupture than normal atherosclerotic lesions. It is also likely that increased risk of thrombosis may play an important role, not least in systemic lupus erythematosus. Further, it is not clear whether an increased risk of CVD is a general feature of rheumatic disease, or whether this only occurs among subgroups of patients. It should be emphasised that there is an apparent lack of treatment studies where CVD in rheumatic disease is the end point. Control of disease activity and of traditional risk factors, however, appears to be well founded in relation to CVD in rheumatic disease. Further studies are needed to determine the exact role of lipid-lowering drugs as statins. Hopefully novel therapies can be developed that target the causes of the inflammation in atherosclerotic lesions both in rheumatic patients and in the general population.