The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) supports a range of clinical trials studying new and existing interventions for prevention and treatment of arthritis, musculoskeletal, and skin diseases.  This trial is complete, and results are now available.

Click on Main Page to learn more about actively recruiting research studies for which you or someone you know may be eligible.

Ongoing studies that have completed recruitment are found here.

Study Description

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is associated with a 2-fold increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is not explained by traditional cardiovascular (CV) risk factors alone. This risk is likely mediated in part through systemic inflammation. Indeed, RA itself is deemed to impart a CV risk equivalent to diabetes mellitus (DM). However, unlike in DM, optimal CV management strategies in RA are lacking. Despite improved anti-inflammatory therapies for RA, the mortality gap in RA compared to the general population is still widening, in part due to suboptimal primary and secondary CV preventive care in RA. To date, there have been no published controlled intervention trials for primary CV prevention in RA, despite this clearly urgent unmet need.

One of the early stages of atherogenesis is endothelial dysfunction, and drugs that target improvement in this are promising novel strategies for CVD prevention. The fundamental feature of endothelial dysfunction is impaired nitric oxide (NO) bioavailability. Sildenafil improves endothelial function by increasing NO signaling by inhibition of phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5). PDE5 inhibitors improve endothelial function in pulmonary hypertension and DM, and were safe and well tolerated in patients with erectile dysfunction and other CV comorbidities. Furthermore, PDE inhibitors have immunomodulatory properties that may be utilized to treat autoimmune conditions like RA.

This study hypothesizes that sildenafil is a uniquely suited agent targeting endothelial dysfunction as a novel adjunctive CV prevention strategy and immunomodulatory agent in RA.  The goal of the study is to determine if sildenafil use in RA improves endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis biomarkers. The specific aims are to determine whether sildenafil use in RA leads to improvement in parameters of vascular function, to confirm its safety profile, and to determine whether sildenafil use in RA is associated with improvement in atherosclerosis biomarkers.  The results of this study will serve as preliminary data for future larger trials evaluating sildenafil as a CV prevention strategy by reducing endothelial dysfunction in RA. It will provide needed data on potential benefits of sildenafil for immunomodulation and CV prevention in this high-risk population.


Ages Eligible for Study:           18 Years and older   (Adult, Older Adult)

Sexes Eligible for Study:          All

Accepts Healthy Volunteers:  No

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Meets 2010 American College of Rheumatology (ACR) classification criteria for diagnosis of RA
  • Aged 18 years or older
  • No known history of CVD (see Exclusion Criteria)
  • At least one traditional CV risk factor (i.e., older age [men ≥45 years, women ≥55 years], obesity [defined as body mass index (BMI) >30 kg/m2], smoking, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes mellitus, family history of premature [defined as diagnosed at <65 years old] CVD in first-degree relative)
  • On stable baseline doses of RA medications, defined as no change in dose within past 4 weeks and no anticipated changes over the next 6 months
  • On no higher than 10 mg per day of prednisone or prednisone-equivalent within past 4 weeks
  • RA disease duration (from symptom onset) of more than 6 months
  • Having clinical disease activity index (CDAI) of >2.8 but ≤22 (i.e., either low or moderate disease activity), within 30 days of study enrollment

Exclusion Criteria:

  • Aged <18 years
  • Pregnant women
  • Known personal history of CVD (clinical diagnoses of stroke, transient ischemic attack, myocardial infarction, acute coronary syndrome, peripheral arterial disease, percutaneous coronary intervention or coronary bypass graft surgery)
  • Use of high-dose statins (e.g., atorvastatin 40-80 mg/day or rosuvastatin 20-40 mg/day) currently or within past 3 months, or any dose changes of statins or of blood pressure medications that may affect endothelial function (i.e., angiotensin-converting-enzyme [ACE] inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers [ARBs]) within past 3 months. If on statin or an ACE-I or ARB, there should be no anticipated dose changes over the next 6 months.
  • Persons with intra-cardiac and intra-pulmonary shunts, unstable cardiopulmonary conditions, or anyone on chronic oxygen therapy
  • Persons taking nitric oxide donors, organic nitrites and nitrates, such as glyceryl trinitrate (nitroglycerin), sodium nitroprusside, amyl nitrite ("poppers")
  • Severe hepatic impairment (liver function tests >1.5 times upper limit of normal) within past 4 weeks
  • Severe impairment in renal function (serum creatinine ≥1.5 mg/dL) within past 4 weeks
  • Hypotension (defined as blood pressure [BP] <90/60)
  • Hereditary degenerative retinal disorders (including genetic disorders of retinal phosphodiesterases)
  • Persons already taking (or taken within 3 months) sildenafil or other PDE inhibitors (i.e., tadalafil, vardenafil)
  • Persons unable to provide voluntary written informed consent
  • Severe hypertension (BP >170/110)
  • Persons with HIV/AIDS

Study Design:

Allocation: Randomized

Intervention Model: Crossover Assignment

Masking: Double (Participant, Investigator)

Primary Purpose: Prevention

Study Location(s):

University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States, 15213

Study Website:

Last Updated: