Trends in the use of disease modifying antirheumatic medications in rheumatoid arthritis, 1980-1995: results from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys

J Rheumatol. 1999 Mar;26(3):546-50.


Objective: Current treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) emphasizes the early and consistent use of disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARD). We studied how often these medications were used to treat patients with RA, and whether use of these medications has increased over time.

Methods: We used the National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys to determine national probability estimates of the use of DMARD [hydroxychloroquine, intramuscular gold, auranofin, methotrexate (MTX), sulfasalazine, azathioprine, D-penicillamine, and cyclosporine] by patients with RA. The National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys record information about treatments provided in outpatient settings by a nationally representative cross sectional sample of physicians. Estimates of the use of DMARD were based on the treatments reported on 502 visits by patients with RA in 1980-81, 339 visits by patients with RA in 1985, 386 visits by patients with RA in 1989-91, and 383 visits by patients with RA in 1993-95.

Results: DMARD were used in 30.3% of visits in 1980-81, 36.3% of visits in 1985, 24.9% of visits in 1989-91, and 43.6% of visits in 1993-95 (p for trend < 0.0001). Increased use of MTX accounted for most of the increased prevalence of DMARD use; MTX was used in 27.3% of visits in 1993-95. Use of DMARD increased in 1993-95 in all age, sex, and racial subgroups, and among visits reported by rheumatologists, but did not increase over time among visits reported by physicians other than rheumatologists.

Conclusion: Use of DMARD in RA has increased in the recent past, but DMARD are currently used by fewer than 44% of patients with RA. Use of DMARD has not increased over time among patients of physicians other than rheumatologists.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Ambulatory Care / trends*
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends
  • Rheumatology / statistics & numerical data
  • Rheumatology / trends
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Whites / statistics & numerical data


  • Antirheumatic Agents