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Cardiovascular disease is the major cause of mortality in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This work studied the presence of impaired forearm haemodynamics, arterial stiffness and microcirculatory reactivity in young women with rheumatoid arthritis.Sixty-five women aged 41–52 years, with rheumatoid arthritis, were screened for the absence of common cardiovascular risk factors. They underwent laser Doppler study on the hand at rest and after ischaemia, endothelium-dependent dilation with colour Doppler ultrasound and pulsewave velocity (PWV). Forty healthy subjects were also examined.Microcirculatory flux at rest with laser Doppler was reduced in rheumatoid arthritis patients (112 ± 45 versus 220 ± 65 perfusion units (PU, arbitrary units); P < 0.005), post-ischaemic peak flow was lower in rheumatoid arthritis patients (235 ± 65 versus 329 ± 76 PU; P < 0.05); percentage increase in peak flow was higher in rheumatoid arthritis patients compared with healthy subjects (153 ± 12 versus 65 ± 18%; P < 0.005). Time to peak flow was longer in rheumatoid arthritis patients (12.7 ± 8 versus 6.2 ± 2 s; P < 0.005). Higher microcirculatory resistance was detected in rheumatoid arthritis patients (0.656 ± 0.011 versus 0.358 ± 0.009 mmHg/PU; P < 0.05). Endothelium-dependent dilation was impaired in rheumatoid arthritis patients (increase in artery dilation 8.2 ± 2 versus 11.5 ± 3%; P < 0.05) and correlated directly with actual C-reactive protein. PWV was higher in rheumatoid arthritis patients (9.3 ± 0.2 versus 8.4 ± 0.4 m/s; P < 0.05) and correlated directly with the duration of disease. District resistance by the arm was higher in rheumatoid arthritis patients (1098 ± 190 versus 661 ± 55 mmHg/l per minute; P < 0.005).Female rheumatoid arthritis patients present with impaired microcirculatory reactivity, endothelial dysfunction and increased arterial stiffness. Alterations in the vascular bed are extended and may explain the increased incidence of cardiovascular events in these patients.