Objectives: To study the outcome in clinical practice of first DMARD and/or corticosteroid (CS) treatment in patients with recent onset rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Patients: 245 patients with active RA, not previously treated with DMARDs or CS, were randomised to one of two treatment groups, T1 = 7.5-15 mg of prednisolone (PRE) daily for one to three months followed, if needed, by methotrexate (MTX) in a weekly dose of 5-15 mg in addition to the lowest possible dose of PRE or T2 = sulfasalazine (SAL), supplemented with lowest possible CS dose if needed.
Methods: The EULAR individual response criteria were applied and remission was defined as a final DAS28 < 2.6. Function was assessed by the HAQ and radiographic progression by Larsen scores. A patient who managed to remain on the allocated treatment for two years was described as a "completer".
Results: After 2 years of treatment, 70% of the patients in T1 and 63% in T2 were responders (30% and 33% "good responders", respectively). In T1 29% and in T2 19% were in remission. There was a significant functional improvement in both groups but radiographic progression occurred. The mean decrease in HAQ and increase in the Larsen score were similar in the two groups. One-third of the patients were non-completers, 19% from T1 and 47% from T2. Non-completers had, compared with completers, a significantly lower rate of individual response and remission. Completers and non-completers had similar functional improvement and similar radiological progression.
Conclusions: Individual response and remission was reduced in patients who did not complete their first DMARD/CS treatment option. Treatment failures were significantly more frequent in the sulfasalazine plus optional CS than in the CS plus optional methotrexate treatment group.