Objective: To evaluate factors that influence the responses defined by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 20% criteria for improvement in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: ACR 20% and 50% response rates were calculated from data collected for the intervals 0-6, 0-12, and 0-24 months for 180 RA patients participating in the Western Consortium of Practicing Rheumatologists long-term observational study of early seropositive RA (mean +/- SD duration of RA at study entry 6.0 +/- 3.4 months). Analyzable cases were patients with paired data for tender and swollen joint counts plus at least 3 of the following criteria: physician's and patient's global assessments of disease activity and patient's score for pain (by visual analog scale), physical function score on the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ), and levels of an acute-phase reactant. Response rates were then recalculated by 3 different methods: 1) using only cases with complete paired data for all criteria, 2) sequentially assuming no improvement in each of the 5 secondary criteria, and 3) substituting grip strength for HAQ scores.
Results: Using 464 paired observations for all analyzable cases, ACR 20% (50%) improvement rates were 52.6% (33.0%), compared with 55.6% (34.8%) for 365 paired observations from the cases with complete data. Decreases in ACR response rates when secondary criteria were sequentially set at "no improvement" ranged from 11.7% (pain at 0-6 months) to 1.2% (C-reactive protein at 0-12 months), but these were not statistically different by the kappa statistic. Overall numerical rankings of the relative contributions of the secondary criteria to the ACR 20% or 50% response rates were physician's global assessment, pain, HAQ, patient's global assessment, and acute-phase reactant. Only 7.8% of paired grip strength observations showed > or =20% improvement, compared with 71% of paired HAQ observations.
Conclusion: The use of all "analyzable" cases (paired data for tender and swollen joint counts plus > or =3 of the 5 secondary criteria) increases the number of subjects and only slightly decreases the ACR response rate compared with analyses limited to cases with complete data. The contributions of the secondary criteria are not statistically different, supporting their equal weighting in the ACR definition of improvement. The ACR 20% response rates are higher when the HAQ, rather than grip strength, is used to measure physical function.