Combination DMARD therapy including corticosteroids in early rheumatoid arthritis

Clin Exp Rheumatol. 1999 Nov-Dec;17(6 Suppl 18):S59-65.


A number of reports indicating the growing acceptance of simultaneous therapy with multiple disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), as well as the use of more aggressive treatment measures in the early phases of disease to combat rheumatoid arthritis (RA), have appeared during the last decade. However, only a few randomized controlled clinical trials have been conducted on the use of DMARD combinations in early RA. We review these trials in this article. In two separate one-year studies combination therapy with sulphasalazine (SSZ) and methotrexate (MTX) seemed to offer no benefits compared to either drug used as monotherapy. On the other hand, the DMARD combinations so far proven to be superior to single DMARDs have initially also included a corticosteroid component. In the COBRA study (Combinatietherapie Bij Reumatoide Artritis) the combination of SSZ (2 gm/day), MTX (7.5 mg/week for 40 weeks), and prednisolone (Prd) (initially 60 mg/day, tapered in 6 weekly steps to 7.5 mg/day and stopped after 28 weeks) compared to SSZ alone (2 gm/day) resulted in significantly better clinical outcomes at week 28. Although the difference in clinical response between the treatment arms was lost at week 58, the progression of joint damage remained statistically significantly slower at week 80 in the patients initially assigned to the combination therapy. Furthermore, in the FIN-RACo trial (Finnish Rheumatoid Arthritis Combination Therapy Trial), therapy using a "tailored-steps" strategy with SSZ (1-2 gm/day), MTX (7.5-1.5 mg/week), hydroxychloroquine (300 mg/day), and Prd (up to 10 mg/day) yielded a significantly increased remission rate and less peripheral joint damage at two years than the single DMARD treatment strategy (initially SSZ 2 gm/day), with or without Prd. Adverse effects in both study arms were comparable. Two additional preliminary reports (in abstract form) suggest that intensive local therapy in the form of intra-articular injections added to single or combination therapy improves both local and systemic disease control, with increased remissions and less damage. Although still preliminary, these results should encourage the rheumatological community to treat selected RA patients with DMARD combinations from the very start.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Humans


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Antirheumatic Agents