Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, a large study has shown.
The research, involving almost two million patients, found taking statins lowered the chances of being diagnosed with the disease by more than 40%.
Statins may inhibit the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by affecting immune system signalling pathways, the Israeli scientists believe.
The disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s own defences attack the joints, leading to pain and disability.
An estimated 350,000 people in the UK are living with RA.
The researchers collected data on 1.8 million members of an Israeli health maintenance organisation called Maccabi Healthcare Services.
Over an average follow up period of five years 2,578 patients developed RA and 17,878 were affected by osteoarthritis, a more common joint condition not caused by the immune system.
After adjusting for factors that might have affected the results, patients who regularly took statins were found to have a 42% reduced risk of RA compared with those not taking the drugs.
Statins were associated with only a small short-term reduction in the risk of developing osteoarthritis.
The authors, led by Dr Gabriel Chodick, from Maccabi Health Services and Tel Aviv University, wrote in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine: “The present study demonstrates a significant negative association between persistence with statin therapy and RA onset, particularly in adult patients who began treatment at a relatively young age and with high efficacy statins.”
Copyright Press Association 2010