RA Drugs May Prevent Early Death

TNF inhibitors for rheumatoid arthritis may lower risk of dying prematurely

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Rheumatoid arthritis not only affects your joints, but also other organs throughout the body. When other organs are affected, patients may be faced with serious problems, even death. One type of drug may lower this risk.

Researchers found that a class of drugs known as anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) medications may lower the risk of an early death in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

"Seek treatment to keep your rheumatoid arthritis from getting worse."

Anti-TNF drugs are used to control inflammation and prevent joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Examples of anti-TNF drugs for rheumatoid arthritis include Remicade (infliximab), Enbrel (etanercept) and Humira (adalimumab).

Inflammation is one of the key characteristics of rheumatoid arthritis. When this inflammation spreads beyond the joints to other organs, patients may be faced with serious health problems.

Diane Lacaille, MD, FRCPC, MHSC, of the University of British Columbia, and colleagues wanted to see if the inflammation-reducing powers of anti-TNF drugs led to a lower risk of early death in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

They found that patients who used anti-TNF drugs had a 25 percent reduced risk of early death compared to patients who had never used anti-TNF drugs.

"Since people with rheumatoid arthritis are at increased risk of dying prematurely, knowing that the medications used to treat the disease reduce risk of [early] death is meaningful for people living with rheumatoid arthritis and their physicians," said Dr. Lacaille.

"Specifically, the study resuts will help people weigh the risks and benefits of these medications when they are deciding whether to start taking them to treat the disease," she said.

For their study, the researchers compared rates of early death between 2,156 patients taking anti-TNF drugs and 2,156 patients who had never taken anti-TNFs but were treated with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like Rheumatrex (methotrexate), Trexall (methotrexate), Arava (leflunomide), Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) or Azulfidine (sulfasalazine).

Over the course of the study, 573 patients died. Of these, 247 were using anti-TNFs and 326 were taking DMARDs.

The authors concluded that exposure to anti-TNF drugs was associated with a significant drop in risk of death.

"Given the increased [death] risk of rheumatoid arthritis, this [study] has important implications for health policy makers, health care providers and people with arthritis," they said.

The research was funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

The study was presented at the American College of Rheumatology's Annual Meeting. As such, it has yet to be reviewed by a body of peers for publication in a scientific journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 14, 2012
Last Updated:
November 14, 2012