Statins are a class of cholesterol-lowering medication commonly used to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. New research, however, suggests the drugs may have another trick up their sleeve: they could reduce the risk of death for patients with certain forms of arthritis.

Researchers suggest statins could lower mortality risk for patients with ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.Share on Pinterest
Researchers suggest statins could lower mortality risk for patients with ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found statins reduced mortality by as much as a third for patients with ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.

Lead study author Dr. Amar Oza and colleagues recently presented their results at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis characterized by inflammation of joints in the spine, and sometimes other areas of the body.

Symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis include back pain and stiffness, which often begin in late adolescence or early adulthood. In severe cases, long-term inflammation can lead to calcification, causing bones in the spine to fuse.

Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic form of arthritis characterized by inflammation of the skin and joints.

Symptoms include joint pain and swelling, and if left untreated, the condition can lead to joint damage. Onset of psoriatic arthritis usually occurs between the ages of 30-50, and the condition is most common among people with psoriasis.

Statins reduced all-cause mortality by 33 percent

Both ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis increase risk of death from cardiovascular diseases. While statins are known to reduce disease risk by lowering cholesterol, studies have suggested that the drugs also have anti-inflammatory properties that benefit cardiovascular health.

Taking this into consideration, Dr. Oza and colleagues decided to investigate whether statins might reduce mortality for patients with ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.

Fast facts about arthritis
  • More than 50 million adults in the United States have some form of arthritis
  • The number of Americans diagnosed with arthritis is expected to reach 67 million by 2030
  • Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the U.S.

Learn more about arthritis

For their study, the researchers analyzed a population database from the United Kingdom, which included 2,904 patients with either ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis who started taking statins between 2000-2014.

These patients were matched with 2,904 ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis patients who did not start using statins.

Over a mean follow-up of 5.3 years, 271 of the patients who started taking statins died, while 376 of the patients who did not start statins died during a mean follow-up period of 5.15 years.

Overall, the team calculated that ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis patients who started statin therapy were at 33 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who did not start using the drugs.

Compared with population-based cohort studies of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the researchers say their study shows a greater reduction in mortality risk for ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis who started using statins.

The team speculates that this heightened benefit is likely down to both the cholesterol-lowering and anti-inflammatory properties of statins.

"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," notes Dr. Oza.

"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."

Dr. Amar Oza

Read how high-dose statins may increase survival for patients with cardiovascular disease.