Newer Drugs Help RA Patients Live Longer

Downside to Biologics Is Lower Immunity, Increased Risk of Shingles, Others Find—June 8, 2012

Rheumatoid arthritis patients who take medications known as anti-TNFs may be treating more than their disease.


In one study, researchers reported an increased risk of getting shingles while on the anti-TNF drugs. The often painful condition is caused by the herpes zoster virus in adults.

RA & RA Drugs
About 1.3 million Americans have RA, in which inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissue can cause pain and stiffness.

Drugs known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are typically prescribed first.

If they don't give enough relief, other drugs, including anti-TNFs, are often added.

Anti-TNF drugs belong to a class known as biologics, which are designed to inhibit parts of the immune system that cause inflammation.

RA, Biologics, & Shingles Risk
For the shingles study, Helene Che of the Lapeyronie Hospital in Montpellier re-evaluated 22 published studies and 28 abstracts.

Patients were on DMARDs and biologics.

Those on anti-TNFs had a 75% higher risk of getting shingles than those on DMARDs.

Perspectives on Biologics for RA

Vivian Bykerk, MD, a rheumatologist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, reviewed the findings. She put the shingles risk in perspective.

While 75% may sound like a large increase, Bykerk says it "would still be less than double a small number."

Patients considering the shingles vaccine should get it before they start the anti-TNFs, she says.

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