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The risk of acute coronary syndrome in rheumatoid arthritis in relation to tumour necrosis factor inhibitors and the risk in the general population: a national cohort study
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Reumatology. Department of Medicine, Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Karolinska Institute, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden.
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Reumatology.
2014 (English)In: Arthritis Research & Therapy, ISSN 1478-6354, E-ISSN 1478-6362, Vol. 16, no 3, R127Article in journal (Other academic) Published
Abstract [en]

Introduction: The elevated risk of ischaemic heart disease in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has been linked to inflammation and disease severity. Treatment with tumour necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFis) is often effective in reducing disease activity and could possibly modify cardiovascular risk. Our objective in the study was to evaluate the risk of acute coronary syndrome (ACS) in patients with RA treated with TNFis compared with the risk among biologic-naive RA patients and the general population.

Methods: By linkage of the Swedish National Patient Register and the Swedish Biologics Register, we identified a cohort of patients who were started on their first biologic, a TNFi, between 2001 and 2010 (N = 7,704), and a cohort comprising matched biologic-naive RA patient referents at a 3:1 ratio. Furthermore, a matched comparator cohort (5:1 ratio) was extracted from the Swedish population register. The incidence rates of a first ACS event were calculated and compared between cohorts using Cox proportional hazards regression in three different risk windows: 'ever-exposed', 'actively on TNFi' and 'short-term exposure' (active treatment maximized to 2 years). The models were adjusted for disease duration, joint surgery, comorbidity and socioeconomic factors, and, in a sensitivity analysis including a subpopulation started on therapy beginning 1 January 2006 or later, for dispensed drugs.

Results: Based on 221 events in 7,704 patients (comprising 32,621 person-years) treated with TNFi biologics, the hazard ratio ((HR); ever-exposed) for ACS among the TNFi-exposed RA patients compared with biologic-naive RA patients was 0.8 (95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.7 to 0.95). In comparison with the general population referents, statistical analysis using fully adjusted models resulted in a HR of 2.0 (95% CI = 1.8 to 2.3) for biologic-naive RA patients and a HR of 1.6 (95% CI = 1.4 to 1.9) for the TNFi-exposed group. Similar risk estimates were obtained using the other two risk windows. A sensitivity analysis in which we compared the TNFi-exposed patients included from 1 January 2006 onward with biologic-naive patients resulted in a HR (ever-exposed) of 0.7 (95% CI = 0.5 to 1.0).

Conclusions: RA patients treated with TNFi had a lower risk of ACS compared with biologic-naive RA patients. Compared with the general population, the risk among patients with RA was elevated, although the difference was less pronounced among the TNFi-exposed patients. This finding could be attributable to the TNFi as such, or it could correspond to a lower degree of inflammation in the TNFi-treated group.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. Vol. 16, no 3, R127
National Category
Rheumatology and Autoimmunity
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-57701DOI: 10.1186/ar4584ISI: 000347078700022OAI: diva2:543796

Originally published in manuscript form with title The risk of acute coronary syndrome in rheumatoid arthritis in relation to TNF inhibitors and the risk in the general population: a national cohort study.

Available from: 2012-08-09 Created: 2012-08-09 Last updated: 2016-06-08Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Aspects on inflammation and cardiovascular comorbidity in rheumatoid arthritis
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Aspects on inflammation and cardiovascular comorbidity in rheumatoid arthritis
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

There is an increased risk for cardiovascular (CV) comorbidity among patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), with premature atherosclerosis, and a higher incidence of CV events, compared with the general population. Disease related factors add to the CV risk, and interact with the traditional CV risk factors. The underlying mechanism for this is not completely understood. In active RA there is a loss of muscle mass and an increase in body fat content. Production of cytokines, i.e., adipokines, in the adipose tissue could link the inflammation with the CV system. Control of the inflammation has been suggested to modify the CV risk in RA, and the recently introduced biological drugs, such as the tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFi), have opened up new treatment opportunities. The aim of this thesis was to evaluate aspects of the interaction between inflammation and CV comorbidity in RA using biochemical and epidemiological methods.


In the first two studies, patients with established RA were examined for clinical disease activity, and blood samples were analysed for cytokines and adipokines using ELISAs and multiplex technology. In Study I (n RA=23) anthropometric measurements were assessed and in Study II (n RA=51) measurements of intima-media thickness (IMT), and endothelial function (FMD). From a subgroup of patients (Study II, n RA=13) samples of abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) were analysed for content of adipokines. In study III and IV associations between treatment with TNFi and acute coronary syndromes (ACS) were analysed using data from the Swedish Rheumatology Register; in Study III regarding early RA (n TNFi exposed=1,271, n bionaïve RA=4,729), and in Study IV comprising patients with RA of all stages (n TNFi exposed=7,213, n bionaïve RA=17,769) and with a matched general population comparator cohort (n=32,161). Associations between response to TNFi therapy and risk for ACS in the early RA cohort were evaluated in a nested case-control design (cases n=24, controls n=81).


Serum levels of the cytokines/adipokines interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra), IL-6, osteopontin, visfatin and TNF were increased in patients compared with controls (p≤0.001-0.036). The amount of TNF receptor II extracted from SAT was greater in patients (p=0.006). The serum (s-) levels of IL-1Ra correlated with s-leptin (r=0.71, p≤0.001) and s-haptoglobin in RA patients (r=0.56, p≤0.01). The result from a factor analysis indicated IL-1Ra to be associated with both adipose tissue and inflammation. Levels of s-visfatin (p=0.019) and s-IL-1Ra (p=0.023), respectively, were positively associated with IMT independently of inflammatory activity and CV risk factors. PAI-1 and MCP-1 extracted from SAT showed inverse associations with IMT.

Patients with RA, whether exposed to TNFi or bio-naïve, had a doubled risk for ACS compared with the general population; HR 2.09 (95%CI 1.58-2.76) and 1.80 (1.49-2.17), respectively. No significant associations between risk for ACS and TNFi exposure were detected after adjustments; HR 0.80 (0.52-1.24) in early RA and HR 1.08 (0.82-1.41) in RA of any duration. Furthermore, no association between the risk for ACS and response to TNFi treatment in patients with early RA was observed, OR 1.5 (0.3-6.9).


The results indicate that cytokines/adipokines may have a role in the development of atherosclerosis in RA patients. A continuing increase in the risk of ACS in RA compared with the general population, despite modern therapeutic strategies, was noted. Neither exposure nor response to treatment with TNFi was associated with any modification of the risk for ACS.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2012. 102 p.
Umeå University medical dissertations, ISSN 0346-6612 ; 1514
rheumatoid arthritis, co-morbidity, cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, acute coronary syndromes, adipokines, adipose tissue, tumor necrosis factor inhibition
National Category
Rheumatology and Autoimmunity
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-57702 (URN)978-91-7459-461-4 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-09-07, sal E04, Biomedicinhuset, byggnad 6E, Norrlands Universitetssjukhus, Umeå, 09:00 (English)
Available from: 2012-08-17 Created: 2012-08-09 Last updated: 2012-08-17Bibliographically approved

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