Results of a UK study in this week's issue of THE LANCET suggest that the anti-inflammatory effect of statins (a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs) could be effective in relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
The inflammatory nature of rheumatoid arthritis puts sufferers at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Statins are well known for reducing vascular risk; Iain McInnes, Naveed Sattar, and colleagues from the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, University of Glasgow, UK, investigated whether statins would reduce inflammatory factors in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
116 patients were randomly allocated either daily 40 mg atorvastatin or placebo in addition to therapy for rheumatoid arthritis. All patients were assessed after 6 months. Among patients given atorvastatin there was a small but statistically significant improvement in arthritis symptoms compared with those given placebo (assessment was done using a composite score for disease severity which included scores for swollen joints and pain scores).
The clinical implications of the study findings are discussed by Lars Klareskog and Anders Hamsten from the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, in an accompanying Commentary (p 2011). Dr Klareskog concludes: "Although of limited size and short-term, their findings support the use of atorvastatin, and presumably of other statins, to prevent cardiovascular disease in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Needless to say, more work is needed to define the long-term effects on inflammatory diseases and cardiovascular co-morbidities, and to expand the basic understanding of how various statins affect the immune system".