Comparison of the effects of exercise and anti-TNF treatment on cardiovascular health in rheumatoid arthritis: results from two controlled trials
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People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Both pharmacological treatment and exercise are suggested in the management of CVD risk in RA. This study explored the effects of exercise and anti-TNF treatment on CVD risk in RA. Twenty RA patients (70% female, 50 (10) years) completed a 3-month exercise intervention and 23 RA patients (65% female, 54 (15) years) started anti-TNF treatment. Markers of disease activity, CVD risk, and vascular function were assessed before and after 3-months of intervention/treatment. Both exercise and anti-TNF treatment improved functional ability and fatigue, anti-TNF treatment was more successful in improving inflammation, disease activity, functional ability and pain. Exercise induced a reduction in overall CVD risk and improvement in vascular function, which was significantly different from anti-TNF treatment where no such changes were found. These findings showed that exercise and anti-TNF had differential effects on CVD risk in RA, and should be combined for optimal CVD risk reduction. Whereas anti-TNF treatment is likely to impact on CVD risk through reducing the systemic inflammatory load, exercise should be recommended to people with RA as an effective self-management strategy to reduce CVD risk further. Once RA patients have responded successfully to anti-TNF treatment, increasing exercise should be encouraged to reduce the risk for CVD. Thus, supporting exercise programmes when the disease is controlled, is likely to enhance the uptake and the maintenance of exercise, which will result in additional benefits to cardiovascular health and wellbeing in people with RA.
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