While news in recent years has focused on cardiovascular risks of some popular rheumatoid arthritis medications, a study published in Arthritis Research & Therapy suggests that people prescribed drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis could actually be at reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The study, of 4,363 patients from 48 sites in 15 countries, found that, when adjusted for age, sex, disease activity and traditional risk factors such as lack of exercise, smoking, diabetes and high cholesterols levels, risk correlated strongly with the use of drugs to treat RA. Taking methotrexate, for just one year for example was found to be associated with an 18 percent reduction in risk of heart attack and an 11 percent decrease in risk of stroke.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a known risk factor for hardening of the arteries and so can lead to stroke and heart attacks occurring in sufferers ten years earlier than in people without the condition.  "Our study provides further support of the influence of both traditional and RA specific risk factors in the development of cardiovascular events, especially heart attack" the researchers conclude. "As assessed by this study, the risk was lower with the prolonged use of methotrexate, sulfasalazine, glucocorticoids, leflunomide and TNF-alpha blockers."