While statins are commonly used as cholesterol lowering agents in those at risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke, a new study suggests that they could also be beneficial to some patients with arthritis. At this year’s American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston reported that statins reduced mortality in patients with ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.
Ankylosing spondylitis is primarily characterized by inflammation in the joints in the spine, while psoriatic arthritis causes chronic inflammation of the skin and joints. If left untreated, both forms of arthritis can lead to further damage, including bone calcification and joint problems, respectively.
Ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis also increase a patient’s risk of death due to cardiovascular disease. While statins have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, they also have anti-inflammatory properties which promote cardiovascular health.
In order to determine whether statins may reduce mortality in patients with these forms of psoriasis, the researchers analyzed data from a UK database which included nearly 3,000 patients taking statins who were also diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis. These patients were compared with the same number of people with these types of arthritis who were not currently taking statins.
After just over five years of follow-up, 271 patients taking statins had died, while 376 patients who were not taking the drug had died. Based on this data, the researchers concluded that those patients on statin therapy faced a 33 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality, compared to arthritis patients not using the drugs.
“Given the increased risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease compared to the general population, patients with seronegative spondyloarthropathies like ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis may benefit from the dual anti-inflammatory and lipid-lowering properties of statins, perhaps even more than in the general population,” said Dr. Amar Oza, a rheumatologist at Massachusetts General and a lead author of the study. “This observational study raises the possibility that clinicians may have a lower threshold for starting their patients on statins to mitigate this mortality risk. To that effect, it sets the groundwork for potential clinical trials to come, which will provide high-level evidence about the impact statins have on their health.”
As this conclusion was made based on the results of an observational study, the researchers are unable to say whether the statin therapy is the single cause of the reduced mortality in the arthritis patients. Still, the team believes that the cholesterol-lowering and anti-inflammatory properties of statins could both contribute to their benefit.