Objectives: Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) decrease clinical signs and symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, radiographic changes sometimes continue to accrue despite effective suppression of clinical symptoms by therapy. The objective of this study was to identify whether successful clinical disease-control in a Swedish early RA-inception cohort of patients led to an attenuation of radiological progression.
Patients and methods: We analysed clinical data and radiographs of 95 patients who were on a stable treatment regimen [methotrexate (MTX), sulfasalazine (SSZ), oral gold (AUR)] or who had changed between different DMARDs during the 2-year observation period [multiple therapy failures (mTF)]. Radiographs were quantified using the modified Larsen score and 'X-Ray RheumaCoach' software.
Results: Clinical measures improved markedly (p <0.001) from baseline to year 2 under AUR, MTX, and SSZ therapy but not in the mTF group. Similar levels of disease control were seen for each DMARD. During this period, patients treated with AUR had a deltaLarsen score (+ 14.5+/-1.3) similar to mTF patients (+ 15.8+/-1.1) but greater than patients on MTX (+8.6+/-0.8) or SSZ (+9.1+/-0.8).
Conclusions: This study confirms that radiological progression occurs despite a clinically acceptable disease control, but also shows that, given the same degree of clinical disease control, radiological progression can be different for different DMARDs.