By Natasha Persaud
People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who stop taking their statin medication have a 60 percent higher chance of dying from heart diseases and a 79 percent higher chance of early death from any cause, according to a study in Arthritis Care & Research. If you have RA, follow your doctor’s advice and continue taking your cholesterol-lowering statin. Although you won’t necessarily feel any different, trust that the medication is doing its job.
For the observational study, researchers followed over four thousand statin users with RA for an average of 4 years. During the study, 467 people died, including 200 from heart disease.
The specific causes of death were heart attack, chronic heart disease and cardiovascular accidents. Older age, being male, having a prior heart attack and using drugs for high blood pressure or heart failure were associated with higher risks.
The researchers also found that taking glucocorticoid medication raised risk, while using methotrexate cut the chances of early death by half.
Protecting Your Heart
People who have RA, an autoimmune condition, have a higher risk of heart disease. If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may have prescribed a statin drug, such as atorvastatin (Lipitor) or simvastatin (Zocor). Statins slow atherosclerosis, the accumulation of plaque in arteries that potentially lead to heart attacks. They also have anti-inflammatory properties that may help protect the heart.
Unfortunately, 50 percent of people stop taking their statins, and perhaps as many as 38 percent of people with RA, according to previous research. In this case, it's probably wise to follow doctors' orders.
Even if you haven’t been prescribed a statin, it’s a good idea to have regular heart checkups, such as lipid testing and blood pressure monitoring. Also adopt a heart healthy lifestyle. Paying extra attention to your heart health just may add years to your life.
De Vera, M., et al. “Impact of Statin Discontinuation on Mortality in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Population-Based Study. Arthritis Care & Research. Accepted article, doi: 10.1002/acr.21643
"Rheumatoid Arthritis." American College of Rheumatology
“Statins and Arthritis.” Arthritis Today.