Arthritis Medications Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke
People who take drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis could be at reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a study published in the open-access journal Arthritis Research & Therapy.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a known risk factor for hardening of the arteries and so can lead to stroke and heart attacks ten years earlier than in people without the condition. However, treating rheumatoid arthritis with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as methotrexate, may reduce this risk. An international team of researchers led by Antonio Naranjo of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, and colleagues analyzed data from the QUEST-RA (Quantitative Patient Questionnaires in Standard Monitoring of Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis) study to verify and quantify this risk reduction.
The team found that risk, when adjusted for age, sex, disease activity and traditional risk factors (such as lack of exercise, smoking, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels) correlated strongly with the use of drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Taking methotrexate – the most widely used DMARD – for just one year was found to be associated with an 18% reduction in risk of heart attack and an 11% decrease in risk of stroke.
"Our study provides further support of the influence of both traditional and RA specific risk factors in the development of cardiovascular events, especially heart attack" the researchers conclude, "As assessed by this study, the risk was lower with the prolonged use of methotrexate, sulfasalazine, glucocorticoids, leflunomide and TNF-α blockers."
In an accompanying editorial, Dr Ronald van Vollenhoven of Karolinska Institute, Sweden, reviews the research article. “The possibility that antirheumatic therapy decreases the risk for cardiovascular complications is tantalizing," writes the author. "The current study, while not exactly proving this point, adds a further measure of support to the concept, and suggests that it must now be formally addressed.”
This article was adapted from a press release issued by BioMed Central.
Naranjo A, Sokka T, Descalzo MA, et al. Cardiovascular disease in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: results from the QUEST-RA study. Arthritis Research & Therapy 2008;10:R30