Rheumatoid arthritis strikes about 1 percent of people, usually in middle age. People with the disease tend to die about 10 years sooner than normal. It is not the type of arthritis common in the elderly because of the wear-and-tear of aging. It occurs when the immune system goes awry and attacks the joints, causing severe inflammation in the lining of the joints, pain and stiffness. It is also linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Methotrexate, a key drug for rheumatoid arthritis, could help people with the crippling disease live longer, possibly by decreasing their risk of heart disease. Researchers says that the study supports the growing evidence that inflammation might play a role in heart attacks and that anti-inflammatory medication might ward them off.
Originally a cancer drug, methotrexate has been used to fight rheumatoid arthritis for about 15 years. Since then it has been proven to slow progression of the inflammatory disease and to make patients feel better, but a new study provides the first hint it may also save lives.
Scientists believe people with rheumatoid arthritis have shorter life spans partly because they face increased chances of getting heart disease and dying from it. The latest study found that patients on methotrexate were 60% less likely to die prematurely than those not getting the drug.