The long-term natural history of rheumatoid arthritis includes early radiographic damage and progression, severe functional declines, work disability and increased mortality rates. Emerging evidence suggests that this natural history may be favourably affected by disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which slow the radiographic progression and functional decline. It is necessary to document both the efficacy of these drugs in randomized controlled clinical trials and their long-term effectiveness in clinical observational studies. Although a 20% improvement in inflammatory measures in the American College of Rheumatology Core Data Set (ACR20) distinguishes DMARDs from placebo in clinical trials, it is not clear that a control of inflammation at this level, or even at 50%, is sufficient to prevent long-term damage. There is limited financial support for long-term observational studies, which depend on data from the clinical experience of rheumatologists. Quantitative databases from clinical care, can be developed to document long-term outcomes in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis to include additional physical, radiographic, laboratory and patient questionnaire quantitative data. Patient self-report questionnaires appear to provide the least expensive and most effective measures toward this goal.
Copyright 2001 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.