Post-MI Secondary Prevention Lacking in RA Patients


Major Finding: Odds ratios for the prescription of aspirin, a statin, and beta-blockers 30 days after a first MI were 0.75, 0.68, and 0.76, respectively.

Data Source: Danish registry study of 66,389 patients – 875 (1.3%) with RA – who had a first MI between 2002 and 2009.

Disclosures: Dr. Lindhardsen and Dr. Schett had no conflicts of interest to declare.

LONDON – Patients with rheumatoid arthritis who have had a heart attack for the first time do not appear to be getting medications recommended to prevent a further cardiovascular event, according to the findings of a large Danish study.

Aspirin, statins, and beta-blockers – cardioprotective medications that are given as the standard of care to most patients immediately following a myocardial infarction – were all less frequently prescribed to patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) than to members of the general patient population.

Indeed, 1 month after an MI, the odds ratios for the prescription of these drugs were 0.75 (95% confidence interval, 0.63-0.90) for aspirin, 0.68 (95% CI, 0.57-0.82) for a statin, and 0.76 (95% CI, 0.63-0.91) for beta-blockers. These results did not change greatly at follow-ups of 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year.

The increased risk of cardiovascular disease in RA is well known and could result from a number of causes, including the presence of classical risk factors such as dyslipidemia and hypertension, possible adverse effects of RA treatment, and an accelerated atherosclerotic process driven by the high levels of inflammation characteristic of the rheumatic disease.

“What's not been considered, [however,] and perhaps the simplest explanation, is whether or not there is undertreatment of [RA] patients,” Dr. Jesper Lindhardsen, of the cardiology department at Gentofte University Hospital, Copenhagen, said at a press briefing.

To determine whether patients with RA were being given standard cardioprotective medications after a first MI, he and his colleagues analyzed data from several Danish patient registries, including those giving prescription records, details of comorbidities, and income.

The study population consisted of 66,389 patients who had had a first heart attack between 2002 and 2009. Of these, 875 (1.3%) had RA. The median age was 72.6 years for RA patients and 69.4 years for patients without RA.

At baseline, the use of cardioprotective medications by patients with and without RA were relatively similar or the same, at 27% and 25.1%, respectively, for aspirin; 19.1% and 19.1% for a statin; 23.9% and 22.5% for a beta-blocker; and 3.3% and 2.2% for clopidogrel.

Although aspirin, statin, and beta-blocker use was later found to be lower in the RA patients than in the non-RA patients throughout the early post-MI period, there was no significant difference in the prescription of clopidogrel at 1, 3, or 6 months or at 1 year.

Commenting on the findings in an interview, Dr. Lindhardsen conceded that these data raise more questions than they answer. For one thing, it's not known what medications patients were taking before they had their heart attack, which could influence the findings.

Dr. Georg Schett, who is chief of rheumatology at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, but was not involved in the study, said the findings illustrate that the high cardiovascular risk in patients with RA is still not being taken seriously enough.

Speaking at a press conference, Dr. Schett said that “the risk of cardiovascular disease in RA is similar to diabetes, but people sometimes forget this.”

Indeed, Dr. Lindhardsen and his colleagues recently published data showing that RA is associated with the same risk of MI as diabetes (Ann. Rheum. Dis. 2011;70:929-34).

With regard to these post-MI data, Dr. Lindhardsen stressed the importance of communication between the cardiologist discharging a patient and the rheumatologist responsible for the patient's long-term care to ensure that standard cardioprotective medications are being used.

“We have quantitative data. Now we need more qualitative data,” Dr. Lindhardsen observed in an interview. The next steps are to try to determine the reasons RA patients get fewer prescriptions for these standard post-MI drugs, he said.

'The risk of cardiovascular disease in RA is similar to diabetes, but people sometimes forget this.'


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