Conference Coverage

Statins’ effects on CVD outweigh risk for diabetes in RA



The use of statins by patients with rheumatoid arthritis appears to provide an overall net benefit on cardiovascular disease outcomes that outweighs the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) seen with the drugs in the general population, according to evidence from a cohort study of more than 16,000 people in the United Kingdom that was presented at the virtual annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

Dr. Gulsen Ozen, a third-year resident at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha

Dr. Gulsen Ozen

“Our study emphasizes that RA patients should be assessed for statin initiation to improve CVD risk,” lead study author Gulsen Ozen, MD, a third-year resident at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, said in an interview. Because the risk of T2DM with statin use is no worse in patients with RA than in the general population, statin initiation “is actually a great opportunity to address the risk factors for T2DM such as activity and exercise, obesity and weight loss, and [use of glucocorticoids], which have other important health effects,” she said.

“Also, importantly, even if [patients] develop T2DM, statins still work on CVD and mortality outcomes as in patients without diabetes,” Dr. Ozen added. “Given all, the benefits of statins way outweigh the hazards.”

Dr. Ozen said this was the first large cohort study to evaluate CVD mortality and T2DM risks with statins in patients with RA, a claim with which rheumatologist Elena Myasoedova, MD, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., concurred.

Dr. Elena Myasoedova, rheumatologist, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

Dr. Elena Myasoedova

Dr. Myasoedova, professor of rheumatology and epidemiology at Mayo, said in an interview that the study was “methodologically rigorous” using time-conditional propensity score (TCPS) matching and a prevalent new-user design, “thus addressing the immortal time bias” found in the design of studies in which patients enter a cohort but do not start a treatment before developing the outcome of interest and are assigned to the untreated group or when the period of delay from when patients enter the cohort to when they are treated is excluded from the analysis. An earlier study from the same authors did not use TCPS matching, she said.

“The study findings suggest that patients with RA can benefit from statin use in terms of CVD outcomes and mortality but physicians should use vigilance regarding increased T2DM risk and discuss this possibility with patients,” Dr. Myasoedova said. “Identifying patients who are at higher risk of developing T2DM after statin initiation would be important to personalize the approach to statin therapy.”

Study details

The study accessed records from the U.K. Clinical Practice Research Datalink and linked Hospital Episode Statistics and Office of National Statistics databases. It analyzed adult patients with RA who were diagnosed during 1989-2018 in two cohorts: One for CVD and all-cause mortality, consisting of 1,768 statin initiators and 3,528 TCPS-matched nonusers; and a T2DM cohort with 3,608 statin initiators and 7,208 TCPS-matched nonusers.

In the entire cohort, statin use was associated with a 32% reduction in CV events (composite endpoint of the nonfatal or fatal MI, stroke, hospitalized heart failure, or CVD mortality), a 54% reduction in all-cause mortality, and a 33% increase in risk for T2DM, Dr. Ozen said. Results were similar in both sexes, although CV event reduction with statins in men did not reach statistical significance, likely because of a smaller sample size, she said.

Patients with and without a history of CVD had a similar reduction in CV events and all-cause mortality, and risk for T2DM increased with statins, but the latter reached statistical significance only in patients without a history of CVD, Dr. Ozen said.

Patients with RA who are at risk for T2DM and who are taking statins require blood glucose monitoring, which is typically done in patients with RA on disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, and hemoglobin A1c testing when glucose levels are impaired, she said. “Any concerns for T2DM would be also communicated by the primary care providers of the patients to initiate further assessment and management,” she said.

But Dr. Ozen noted that confusion exists among primary care physicians and rheumatologists about who’s responsible for prescribing statins in these patients. “I would like to remind you that instead of assigning this role to a certain specialty, just good communication could improve this care gap of statin underutilization in RA,” she said. “Also, for rheumatologists, given that all-cause mortality reduction with statins was as high as CV event reduction, statins may be reducing other causes of mortality through improving disease activity.”

Bristol-Myers Squibb provided funding for the study. Dr. Ozen and Dr. Myasoedova have no relevant disclosures.

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