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Commentary

Evidence for early disease-modifying drugs in rheumatoid arthritis

David L Scott

Author Affiliations

Department of Rheumatology, Kings College Hospital, London, UK

Arthritis Res Ther 2004, 6:15-18  doi:10.1186/ar1030

Published: 16 December 2003

Abstract

Some research evidence supports early aggressive treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) using combination therapy with two or more disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) plus steroids, or even DMARDs plus an anti-TNF. By contrast, conservatively delayed DMARD monotherapy, given after non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have failed, has been criticised. However, recent long-term studies highlight the complexities in evaluating whether to abandon pyramidal treatment in favour of early DMARDs. Although patients given early DMARD therapy show short-term benefits, longer-term results show no prolonged clinical advantages from early DMARDs. By 5 years patients receiving early DMARDs had similar disease activity and comparable health assessment questionnaire scores to patients who received DMARDs later in their disease course. X-ray progression was persistent and virtually identical in both groups. These negative findings do not invalidate the case for early DMARD therapy, as it is gives sustained reductions in disease activity in the early years of treatment without excessive risks from adverse effects. However, early DMARDs alone do not adequately control RA in the longer term. This may require starting with very aggressive therapy or treating patients more aggressively after early DMARD therapy has been initiated.