Although rheumatoid arthritis has been associated with an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease, factors underlying such risks in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis remain unclear. Researchers from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons conducted a study with 195 individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and 1,073 individuals without rheumatoid arthritis to examine whether psychosocial factors are deferentially associated with risks for cardiovascular diseases and atherosclerosis in populations with rheumatoid arthritis compared with the general population.
In addition to assessing symptoms of depression, stress, anxiety, and more, the researchers measured the participants’ coronary artery calcium (a marker of coronary artery disease) and carotid artery thickness and plaque build-up (both markers for atherosclerosis).
The analysis showed that high scores for anxiety and anger, depression, and caregiver stress in the rheumatoid arthritis group were statistically and significantly associated with higher levels of calcium (>100 units) in the coronary artery, indicating a risk for moderate to mild coronary artery disease. Elevated levels of job stress were associated with increased buildup of plaque in the carotid artery in the rheumatoid arthritis cohort but not in controls.
Based on their findings, the authors concluded that screening patients with rheumatoid arthritis for psychosocial comorbidities, such as symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, may help to ameliorate additional cardiovascular disease-related burdens.
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Depression Increases Stroke Risk, Even After Symptoms Remit.”