Objective. To examine the association of serum lipids, inflammation and seropositivity on coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Methods. The incidence of hospitalised myocardial infarction (MI) or stroke was calculated in a cohort of patients with RA receiving care within the national Veterans Health Administration from 1998 to 2011. Cox proportional hazard models were used to examine the association between these outcomes and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), C reactive protein (CRP) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) as time-varying variables, divided into quintiles. Results. There were 37 568 patients with RA in the cohort with mean age of 63 years (SD 12.1); 90% were men. There was a no clear association between LDL-C and CHD/stroke. Compared with lower HDL-C (<34 mg/dL), higher HDL-C (≥54 mg/dL) was inversely associated with MI (hazard ratio (HR)=0.68, 95% CI 0.55 to 0.85) and stroke (HR=0.69, 95% CI 0.50 to 0.96). Higher CRP >2.17 mg/dL (vs CRP <0.26 mg/dL) was associated with increased risk (HR=2.43, 95% CI 1.77 to 3.33) for MI and 2.02 (95% CI 1.32 to 3.08) for stroke. ESR >47 mm/h compared with <8 mm/h had an HR 1.87 (95% CI 1.39 to 2.52) for MI and 2.00 (95% CI 1.26 to 3.18) for stroke. The association between MI was significant for RA seropositivity (HR=1.23, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.48). Conclusions. In this predominantly older male RA cohort, there was no clear association between LDL-C and CHD, whereas higher HDL-C was inversely associated with MI and stroke. CRP and ESR were similarly associated with increase MI risk and stroke, reflecting the prominent role of inflammation in CHD risk in RA.