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Certain RA Drugs May Also Protect Patients' Hearts

Biologic drugs such as Enbrel, Humira may lower rate of heart attack, researchers say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

SATURDAY, Oct. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Drugs that people with rheumatoid arthritis use to help ease the symptoms of the disease might also help ward off heart trouble, two new studies find.

Researchers in Sweden found that so-called "biologic" drugs, known as tumor necrosis factor inhibitors, or anti-TNFs, slightly reduce the risk for acute coronary syndrome -- a condition that includes angina and heart attack in which blood supply to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked.

In another study, British scientists also found taking these drugs was associated with a lower risk for heart attack in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

The findings were to be presented Saturday at the American College of Rheumatology's annual meeting in San Diego. Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The roughly 1.3 million Americans affected by the rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that occurs when the immune system mistakenly begins to attack the joints, often suffer from pain, stiffness, swelling, and have trouble moving and using many of their joints. The condition, which is twice as common among women, can also cause inflammation in the organs.

One expert said heart problems were also an issue for many patients.

"It has been known that patients with rheumatoid arthritis have a greater risk of developing heart disease than those without," said Dr. Kenneth Ong, acting chief of cardiology at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City. "This risk seems to extend in many forms of cardiovascular disorders, among which the most notable is coronary artery disease, but also includes heart failure, peripheral artery disease and possibly stroke."

For the past decade, anti-TNF drugs have been used around the world to treat rheumatoid arthritis as well as other inflammatory conditions. These pricey medications -- prescribed under brand names such as Remicade, Enbrel, Humira, Cimzia and Simponi -- have been shown to reduce inflammation.

In the first study, the Swedish team compared rates of heart disease among patients with rheumatoid arthritis taking anti-TNFs with patients not using the drugs and people in the general population, to see if the medications could also cut the risk for heart issues.

The study involved a group of more than 7,700 patients in Sweden with rheumatoid arthritis who had never been diagnosed with heart disease. They began taking anti-TNFs between 2001 and 2010. Of this group, about 76 percent were women averaging about 57 years of age. The researchers compared these patients to a group of more than 23,000 similar people who also had rheumatoid arthritis but had never taken anti-TNFs, as well as a group of more than 38,500 similar people randomly selected from the general population in Sweden.

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