RA Drug Stops Pain, Protects Heart

Rheumatoid arthritis patients reduce risk of cardiovascular events through anti-TNF use

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) People with rheumatoid arthritis are thankful enough when their drug treatment reduces the pain of their disease. It is even better when those drugs protect them from a potentially deadly complication: heart disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients who take anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) drugs may lower their risk of heart disease, compared to those who do not use anti-TNF drugs.

"Take care of your heart if you have rheumatoid arthritis."

According to lead author Michael T. Nurmohamed, MD, PhD, of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, "[Rheumatoid arthritis] and heart disease have a common origin and the systemic inflammation involved in [rheumatoid arthritis] is thought to also promote cardiovascular disease and even cardiovascular death. Studies have shown that within the first ten years of being diagnosed with [rheumatoid arthritis], the risk of heart attack almost doubles."

In other words, the inflammation, or swelling, of rheumatoid arthritis could be the cause of deadly heart problems in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Dr. Nurmohamed goes on to explain that anti-TNFs have become the drug of choice for patients who cannot handle methotrexate - another arthritis drug that can cause ulcerative stomatitis and increase the risk of infection.

The reduced risk of heart disease seen in this study is "an added bonus to an already successful class of drugs," he says.

The study's results show that using anti-TNF drugs for one year reduced the risk of heart-related events by 24 percent. Using the drugs for two years reduced arthritis patients' risk of heart-related events by 42 percent, and by 56 percent if patients used anti-TNFs for three years.

Through this study of 109,462 rheumatoid arthritis patients, the researchers found that every additional six months of anti-TNF use led to even less risk of heart-related events, including heart attack, stroke, unstable angina (not enough blood flow to the heart) and heart failure.

These findings were presented at the 2012 Annual Congress of the European League Against Rheumatism. The study has yet to be assessed by a peer-reviewed journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 7, 2012
Last Updated:
October 18, 2012