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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with reduced adiposity but not with unfavorable major cardiovascular risk factor profiles and enhanced carotid atherosclerosis in black Africans from a developing population: a cross-sectional study

Patrick H Dessein1*, Angela J Woodiwiss1, Gavin R Norton1 and Ahmed Solomon2

Author affiliations

1 Cardiovascular Pathophysiology and Genomics Research Unit, School of Physiology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, 7 York Road, Parktown, Johannesburg 2193, South Africa

2 Department of Rheumatology, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, 7 York Road, Parktown, Johannesburg 2193, South Africa

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Citation and License

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013, 15:R96  doi:10.1186/ar4276

Published: 22 August 2013



Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterized by inflamed joint-derived cytokine-mediated high-grade systemic inflammation that enhances cardiovascular metabolic risk and disease in developed populations. We investigated the potential impact of RA on cardiovascular risk factors including systemic inflammation and atherosclerosis, and their relationships in black Africans from a developing population.


We evaluated demographic features, adiposity indices, major traditional cardiovascular risk factors, circulating C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 concentrations and ultrasound determined carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) in 274 black Africans; 115 had established RA. Data were analyzed in confounder-adjusted mixed regression models.


The body mass index and waist-height ratio were lower in RA compared to non-RA subjects (29.2 (6.6) versus 33.7 (8.0), P < 0.0001 and 0.58 (0.09) versus 0.62 (0.1), P = 0.0003, respectively). Dyslipidemia was less prevalent in patients with RA (odds ratio (OR) (95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.54 (0.30 to1.00)); this disparity was no longer significant after further adjustment for reduced adiposity and chloroquine use. RA was also not associated with hypertension, current smoking and diabetes. The number of major traditional risk factors did not differ by RA status (1.1 (0.8) versus 1.2 (0.9), P = 0.7). Circulating C-reactive protein concentrations were similar and serum interleukin-6 concentrations reduced in RA (7.2 (3.1) versus 6.7 (3.1) mg/l, P = 0.7 and 3.9 (1.9) versus 6.3 (1.9) pg/ml, P < 0.0001, respectively). The cIMT was 0.700 (0.085) and 0.701 (0.111) mm in RA and non-RA subjects, respectively (P = 0.7). RA disease activity and severity parameters were consistently unrelated to systemic inflammation, despite the presence of clinically active disease in 82.6% of patients. In all participants, adiposity indices, smoking and converting angiotensin inhibitor non-use were associated with increased systemic inflammation, which related to more atherogenic lipid profiles, and circulating low density lipoprotein concentrations were associated with cIMT (partial R = 0.153, P = 0.032); RA did not impact on these relationships (interaction P ≥0.1).


Among black Africans, patients with established RA experience reduced overall and abdominal adiposity but no enhanced major traditional risk factor and atherosclerosis burden. This study further suggests that an absent interleukin-6 release by inflamed RA joints into the circulation may account for this unaltered cardiovascular disease risk.