Benefits of Early Drug Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

July 18, 2011

An observational study finds evidence for the benefits of starting drug treatment within three months of rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.

There is general agreement that patients should start drug treatment soon after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, but there has so far been scant evidence that early treatment slows radiographic progression. Now, an observational study published in the July issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism finds evidence of the benefits of early treatment.

The study looked at outcomes for 661 patients and found that those who started drug treatment within three months of diagnosis did not show a significant different in radiographic progression compared with those who started treatment later. However, after adjusting for the severity of patient’ conditions (by calculating a “propensity score” for each patient that took into account factors that influenced the decision to prescribe drug treatment) the researchers found that early drug treatment did lead to a statistically significant improvement in radiographic progression. The data indicated that early treatment was particularly beneficial for patients whose condition was most severe.

Around the Web

Favorable effect of very early disease-modifying antirheumatic drug treatment on radiographic progression in early inflammatory arthritis: Data from the Étude et Suivi des Polyarthrites IndifféRenciées récentes (Study and Followup of Early Undifferentiated Polyarthritis) [Arthritis & Rheumatism]