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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


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.

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.

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