Bisphosphonates are a group of drugs used to treat bone conditions. They are bone-building drugs taken by people who suffer from osteoporosis and other conditions characterised by bone fragility. Many people afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other forms of inflammatory arthritis also take bisphosphonates to combat bone loss as a result of the disease and use of corticosteroids. Since chronic inflammation puts RA patients at greater risk of suffering heart attacks, the findings of a recent US study are encouraging for those taking bisphosphonates. The results suggest that the drugs help reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in RA patients.
The results of the study were published in the May issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. One of the authors of the report, Dr Cathleen S. Colon-Emeric of Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, said the findings supported the team´s hypothesis that bisphosphonates may be helping to protect RA patients from heart attacks. However, she pointed out that the study was limited to such patients and it was necessary to conduct additional research into the potential effect on the general population.
The research team examined data collected from 19,281 RA patients, around 5,800 of whom had taken bisphosphonates at some point. The analysis proceeded under three models. The first reviewed data from patients who had taken bisphosphonates, with researchers comparing the risk of heart attack on and off medication. The second model compared patients who had used bisphosphonates to patients who had never done so. The third involved studying patients with multiple heart attacks on their record and comparing the risk for bisphosphonate takers and non-takers. The final analysis showed a risk reduction of between 30% and 50% after various other risk factors (diabetes for example) were taken into account.