Good news for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers! Study finds statins safe to use

People with rheumatoid arthritis are 50 per cent more at risk of suffering a stroke or a heart attack than the general population, but questions have previously been raised surrounding the safety and effectiveness of statins for these people. Source: Getty

Statins are a type of medication prescribed to many over-60s as a way of lowering low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or ‘bad’ cholesterol and until now, very little research has existed surrounding their safety and effectiveness for people living with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Compared to the general population, the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke is 50 per cent higher in people with rheumatoid arthritis. While the medication can potentially reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in high-risk patients, researchers from the University of Manchester in the UK set out to discover if statins are also safe for those with inflammatory conditions. The findings were published in the Arthritis and Rheumatology Journal.

Researchers designed the Trial of Atorvastatin for the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Events in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis (TRACE RA) to test the potential risk and benefits of statins in moderate risk patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The trial included 3,002 over-50s with rheumatoid arthritis or who had rheumatoid arthritis for more than 10 years. The patients also didn’t have clinical atherosclerosis, diabetes, or myopathy.

Patients were randomised to receive either 40mg of statin medication atorvastatin daily or placebo. At median follow-up periods of 2.5 years, 1.6 per cent of patients who received the statin and 2.4 per cent of those who received placebo died as a result of cardiovascular death or experienced a heart attack, stroke, transient ischemic attack, or arterial revascularisation.

Researchers noted a 40 per cent lower risk of experiencing cardiovascular event for patients taking the statin, but explained the difference wasn’t statistically significant because the overall rate of such events was low.

Read more: Should you take statins to lower cholesterol? Dr Ross Walker’s verdict

At the end of the trial, those in the atorvastatin group had significantly lower LDL cholesterol and significantly lower levels of inflammation marker C-reactive protein when compared to those taking placebo. Adverse events in both groups were similar.

“The trial found that the statin reduced levels of cholesterol by similar amounts as has been seen in other populations studied. The results also show that it is as safe for patients with rheumatoid arthritis to take statins as for the general population,” co-senior author Deborah Symmons said in a statement.

“In addition, because of the low overall rate of cardiovascular events in the trial population, there is no indication for all patients with rheumatoid arthritis to be prescribed a statin. This is unlike diabetes where the great majority of patients are recommended to take a statin.”

Study authors concluded that patients with rheumatoid arthritis be prescribed statins according to national or local guidelines for managing cardiovascular risk in the general population.

Statins remain one of the most controversial drugs on the market. Some hail the pills as “miracle drugs”, while others in the medical world claim they’re ineffective. It’s always important to discuss the potential side effects and effectiveness of statins with your health professional.

Do you have inflammatory arthritis? Have you been prescribed statins?

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