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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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In the news release, Dixon said that "rheumatologists can be reassured that treatment of active rheumatoid arthritis with anti-TNF therapy may lead not just to an improvement in joint symptoms, but also a reduction in the rate of [heart attacks] in the medium term."

His team pointed out, however, that patients with rheumatoid arthritis generally have an increased risk of heart attacks. So, even though anti-TNFs may help curb the risk for heart attacks they do not eliminate it. The U.K. group conclude that patients with rheumatoid arthritis who taking biologic drugs still need to take steps to cut their risk for heart disease.

One expert not connected to the studies agreed.

"Given that these studies demonstrate the increased risk of cardiovascular disease in rheumatoid arthritis, patients should try to mitigate other known cardiovascular risk factors by not smoking and maintaining a healthy diet and weight," said Dr. Diane Horowitz, a rheumatologist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

For his part, Ong said it makes "sense that drugs that reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis could reduce some of the risk of developing heart disease in these same patients."

But he added that the studies also raise intriguing questions, such as whether or not the heart-healthy benefits of anti-TNFs last beyond the time of treatment, whether the benefit extends equally to men and women and whether these results extend to patients who do not require hospitalization for heart issues.

Cost was another issue, Ong said. "Anti-TNF drugs are among the most expensive medications developed for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis," he said. "I understand that it is not the first line of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis [but] if these initial results are verified by subsequent studies, the cost of treating rheumatoid arthritis may skyrocket."

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