ROME – The interval for assessing cardiovascular disease risk in patients with at least one inflamed joint can be as long as 5 years, depending on the patient, according to revised recommendations issued by a European League Against Rheumatism expert panel. The first edition of the recommendations called for annual assessment.
“We leave the assessment interval up to each clinician. Annually is very hard to incorporate into clinical practice,” said Dr. Michael T. Nurmohamed, convenor of both the initial recommendation panel as well as the group that produced the new revision. He previewed the updated recommendations during a talk at the European Congress of Rheumatology. The final form of the revised recommendations, which apply to patients with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or ankylosing spondylitis, will soon be posted online and published, he said.
The context for cardiovascular disease risk assessment of patients with these rheumatoid diseases who are in primary-prevention mode has changed since the initial version was released in 2009 (Ann. Rheum. Dis. 2010;69:325-31). That changed context led to a rethinking of the appropriate interval for risk-factor assessment, said Dr. Nurmohamed, professor and head of rheumatology research at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam. “In 2009, tight control of rheumatoid diseases generally did not exist,” he said in an interview.
In patients with well-controlled rheumatoid disease, “you can assess their cardiovascular disease [CVD] risk, and if the risk is very low” you can defer the next follow-up assessment for 5 years or longer. But if a patient’s CVD risk is high, assess the patient more often, Dr. Nurmohamed suggested. The recommendations also call for an updated CVD risk assessment following a “major change” in antirheumatoid therapy.
The updated recommendations include two other notable changes. First, there is now a much deeper evidence base behind the need for CVD risk assessment and management in patients with psoriatic arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis. “We mentioned them before, but the data weren’t all that hard. We now have more evidence,” he said in an interview.
Second, the revised recommendations say that ultrasound examination of atherosclerotic plaque number and volume in a patient’s carotid artery “may be considered.” Dr. Nurmohamed acknowledged that carotid examination by ultrasound is very discretionary; it can provide useful risk information, but “not every rheumatologist will do it.”
Most other aspects of the revised recommendations remain similar to the 2009 edition. They emphasize controlling inflammation to lower CVD risk, multiplying a patient’s CVD risk score by a factor of 1.5 to better estimate their increased risk level due to their rheumatic disease, cautious use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and minimized use of glucocorticoids. Multiplying a patient’s CVD risk score results in a “rough” risk estimate, he cautioned. “The problem is we use 1.5 for all patients, regardless of their rheumatoid-disease duration,” he said.
Recommended interventions to reduce a patient’s CVD risk include lifestyle steps of healthy diet, regular exercise, and smoking cessation, and the standard drug interventions for reducing CVD risk: antihypertensive medications and lipid-lowering drugs, especially statins. Target levels for treating hypertension and hyperlipidemia remain the same as for primary prevention in the general population, he said. CVD risk assessment and management steps for patients with one of the covered rheumatoid diseases and established CVD are the same as for standard secondary-prevention measures in the general population.
A notable gap in the revision is the continued absence of recommendations for patients with gout. “Gout is on our research agenda, but represents an enormous task,” Dr. Nurmohamed said. He anticipates that his panel will eventually develop recommendations for managing CVD risk in gout patients.
On Twitter @mitchelzoler