The role of non-invasive cardiovascular imaging in the assessment of cardiovascular risk in rheumatoid arthritis: where we are and where we need to be

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Abstract

This review assesses the risk assessment of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and how non-invasive imaging modalities may improve risk stratification in future. RA is common and patients are at greater risk of CVD than the general population. Cardiovascular (CV) risk stratification is recommended in European guidelines for patients at high and very high CV risk in order to commence preventative therapy. Ideally, such an assessment should be carried out immediately after diagnosis and as part of ongoing long-term patient care in order to improve patient outcomes. The risk profile in RA is different from the general population and is not well estimated using conventional clinical CVD risk algorithms, particularly in patients estimated as intermediate CVD risk. Non-invasive imaging techniques may therefore play an important role in improving risk assessment. However, there are currently very limited prognostic data specific to patients with RA to guide clinicians in risk stratification using these imaging techniques. RA is associated with increased risk of CV mortality, mainly attributable to atherosclerotic disease, though in addition, RA is associated with many other disease processes which further contribute to increased CV mortality. There is reasonable evidence for using carotid ultrasound in patients estimated to be at intermediate risk of CV mortality using clinical CVD risk algorithms. Newer imaging techniques such as cardiovascular magnetic resonance and CT offer the potential to improve risk stratification further; however, longitudinal data with hard CVD outcomes are currently lacking.

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