Arthritis drugs likely are not the only type of medication in your bathroom cabinet. You also may take medicine to help you manage symptoms or conditions that sometimes accompany arthritis – antidepressants to improve mood and quality of sleep, sleep aids to help you get a good night’s rest, or statins. 

Arthritis patients often take statins because because the No. 1 cause of death for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is cardiovascular disease. In fact, data from a 2006 study in the Journal of Rheumatology suggested that rheumatoid arthritis should be considered an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and that all people with RA should be screened regularly for high cholesterol. When cholesterol builds up on artery walls, the arteries become narrow, and that can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Statins often are prescribed for people at risk of cardiovascular disease because they are effective, have few side effects and even offer a few benefits. They block a liver enzyme that helps make cholesterol, and also may help your body reabsorb cholesterol that already has built up in your arteries. The statin drugs include atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin calcium (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor).

Besides the benefits linking statins and arthritis-related cardiovascular disease, scientists are finding statins also may reduce the risk of other conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer and smoking-related lung damage. And that’s not all. The anti-inflammatory properties of statins may be beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis, too. A 2006 study by researchers in Japan found that Lescol killed synovial cells in test tubes. In RA, synovial cells lining the joint reproduce abnormally, causing inflammation. Over time, abnormal synovial cells destroy cartilage and bone. Kill­ing synovial cells could stop or slow that process.

Another study showed that RA patients who received 40 milligrams (mg) daily of Lipitor had less swelling than those who received placebo. More studies would be needed to confirm the results, so doctors aren’t planning to prescribe statins for rheumatoid arthritis just yet.

Even though today’s statins may not prove ideal for treating RA, they provide important benefits to people with RA who also have high cholesterol.