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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

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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).

Using The British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register, which contains information compiled between 2001 and 2008 on more than 20,000 patients in the UK, the researchers examined the rate of heart attacks among nearly 14,300 people with rheumatoid arthritis. They also considered whether the severity of heart attacks was in any way affected by treatment with TNF inhibitors.

The researchers also used data from two previous British studies. One examined the safety of biologic drugs, the other examined heart attack-related hospitalizations in England and Wales.

"Better control of inflammation with biologic therapy might reduce not only the rate of heart attacks, but potentially also affect the size of [heart attacks]," reasoned study co-author Dr. William Dixon a rheumatologist with Arthritis Research UK's Epidemiology Unit at the University of Manchester.

The study showed that patients taking anti-TNF drugs were at lower risk for heart attack than patients taking traditional DMARDs. However, use of the biologic drugs did not affect the severity of heart attacks, the British team found.

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