An international team of researchers has found that drugs prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis may lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The study, by researchers in Spain, Argentina, Europe, and the USA, was led by by Antonio Naranjo of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.
As a part of the research, the boffins analyzed data from the QUEST-RA (Quantitative Patient Questionnaires in Standard Monitoring of Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis) study that included 4,363 patients from 48 sites in 15 countries.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a known risk factor for hardening of the arteries and so can lead to stroke and heart attacks occurring in sufferers ten years earlier than in people without the condition.
However, earlier studies have shown that treating rheumatoid arthritis with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as methotrexate, may reduce this risk.
The new study by the international team of researchers has quantified this risk reduction.
After controlling for age, sex, disease activity, and traditional risk factors such as lack of exercise, smoking, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels, the boffins found that the risk correlated strongly with the use of drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
"Our study provides further support of the influence of both traditional and RA specific risk factors in the development of cardiovascular events, especially heart attack" the researchers conclude.
"As assessed by this study, the risk was lower with the prolonged use of methotrexate, sulfasalazine, glucocorticoids, leflunomide and TNF-a blockers."
The study is published in the open access journal Arthritis Research and Therapy.