Purpose of review: To summarize the recent literature concerning the role of TNF-alpha in heart failure, epidemiology of heart failure in rheumatoid arthritis and risk of heart failure associated with biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs in rheumatoid arthritis.
Recent findings: TNF-alpha has been implicated in the pathogenesis of heart failure. It has direct deleterious effects on the myocardium in the setting of acute injury or chronic heart failure. In animal models, TNF-alpha is important in cardiac remodeling, leading to cardiac dysfunction following acute injury. Both incident and worsening heart failure have been reported in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who are treated with anti-TNF-alpha therapy. Recent cohort studies, however, have shown no increased risk and, in some, a protective effect on the risk of heart failure. Certain traditional cardiovascular risk factors have a relatively lesser contribution to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, suggesting that disease-related perturbations of the cytokine network may contribute to the excess risk of heart failure in these patients.
Summary: Overall mortality in rheumatoid arthritis has remained stagnant despite advances in rheumatoid arthritis and heart failure management and improved cardiovascular mortality in the general population. Heart failure prevalence is increased in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and leads to greater mortality. Despite current expert consensus contraindicating the use of anti-TNF-alpha agents in patients with moderate to severe heart failure, epidemiological studies in rheumatoid arthritis have not consistently substantiated this association.