Objective: To examine associations of body mass index (BMI) and weight loss with cause-specific mortality in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Methods: A cohort of US veterans with RA was followed until death or through 2013. BMI was categorized as underweight, normal, overweight, and obese. Weight loss was calculated as the 1) annualized rate of change over the preceding 13 months, and 2) cumulative percent. Vital status and cause of death were obtained from the National Death Index. Multivariable competing-risks regression models were utilized to assess the time-varying associations of BMI and weight loss with cause-specific mortality. Results: Among 1,600 participants and 5,789 patient-years of followup, 303 deaths occurred (95 cardiovascular, 74 cancer, and 46 respiratory). The highest weight-loss rate and weight-loss percent were associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular mortality (rate: subdistribution hazard ratio [sHR] 2.27 [95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.61–3.19]; percent: sHR 2.31 [95% CI 1.06–5.01]) and cancer mortality (rate: sHR 2.36 [95% CI 1.11–5.01]; percent: sHR 1.90 [95% CI 1.00–3.62]). Overweight BMI was protective of cardiovascular mortality (sHR 0.59 [95% CI 0.38–0.91]), while underweight BMI was associated with a near 3-fold increased risk of respiratory mortality (sHR 2.93 [95% CI 1.28–6.67]). Incorporation of time-varying BMI and weight loss in the same models did not substantially alter individual associations for cardiovascular and cancer mortality, but an association between weight-loss percentage and respiratory mortality was attenuated after BMI adjustment. Conclusion: Both BMI and weight loss are predictors of cause-specific mortality in RA. Weight loss is a strong predictor of cardiovascular and cancer mortality, while underweight BMI is a stronger predictor of respiratory mortality.
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