Objective: To evaluate whether the clinical advantages observed after 1 year in a randomized controlled clinical trial, in which 2 treatment strategies were compared (the early disease-modifying antirheumatic drug [DMARD] approach versus the pyramid approach), persist after 5 years.
Methods: In this study, 238 patients with recently diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were randomized to either the pyramid group (n = 56) or the early DMARD group (n = 182). Patients assigned to the pyramid group received nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs for at least 1 year after inclusion (the mean +/- SD lag time until first prescription of a DMARD was 14 +/- 9 months). Patients in the early DMARD group were treated with a DMARD immediately after inclusion.
Results: After 5 years, data were available for 44 patients in the pyramid group (79%) and 145 patients in the early DMARD group (80%). No prolongation of the clinical advantages in favor of the early DMARD group, as observed after the first year, was demonstrated. Nevertheless, a significantly shorter delay time until complete response and a higher number of patients with overall clinically relevant improvement at several assessment points were observed in the early DMARD group compared with the pyramid group.
Conclusion: The clinical results in favor of the early DMARD group, as observed after the first year, were not as evident after 5 years. This indicates that a more aggressive treatment approach in early RA is required, and that treatment should be continued for a prolonged period of time, in order to maintain the advantages obtained in the first year.