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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


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.

The researchers classified exposure to the drugs into three categories: those who were "actively" on the drugs; those with "short-term exposure" who took the medication for up to two years; and those who had "ever" taken the medication at some point.

The study revealed the prevalence of heart events was slightly lower among patients with rheumatoid arthritis who were actively taking anti-TNFs than people with rheumatoid arthritis who had never taken this type of medication. Patients actively taking anti-TNFs were 50 percent more likely to have angina or heart attacks than the general population, while patients who had never taken these medications were more than twice as likely to have these heart events.

After taking other factors into account, such as how long the patients had rheumatoid arthritis, other diseases affecting the patients and socio-economic status, the researchers found that patients actively on the drugs had a 27 percent lower risk for angina/heart attack than patients who had never taken such a drug.

"This nationwide study adds to the evidence that use of TNF inhibitors for rheumatoid arthritis also has an impact on cardiovascular [illness]," study author Dr. Lotta Ljung, a senior consultant in rheumatology at Umea University Hospital, said in a news release issued by the meeting organizers.

However, she stressed that it's not clear whether the drugs themselves caused the lowering of heart risks, or whether an easing of rheumatoid arthritis was the underlying cause of better heart health.

A second study conducted by researchers in the UK examined the effects of anti-TNF drugs on patients' risk for heart attacks. The researchers compared use of these drugs among patients with rheumatoid arthritis to patients taking more traditional drugs, known as non-biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

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