Objective: Several treatment strategies have proven value in the amelioration of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but the optimal strategy for preventing long-term joint damage and functional decline is unclear. We undertook this study to compare clinical and radiographic outcomes of 4 different treatment strategies, with intense monitoring in all patients.
Methods: In a multicenter, randomized clinical trial, 508 patients were allocated to 1 of 4 treatment strategies: sequential disease-modifying antirheumatic drug monotherapy (group 1), step-up combination therapy (group 2), initial combination therapy with tapered high-dose prednisone (group 3), and initial combination therapy with the tumor necrosis factor antagonist infliximab (group 4). Treatment adjustments were made every 3 months in an effort to obtain low disease activity (a Disease Activity Score in 44 joints of < or =2.4).
Results: Initial combination therapy including either prednisone (group 3) or infliximab (group 4) resulted in earlier functional improvement than did sequential monotherapy (group 1) and step-up combination therapy (group 2), with mean scores at 3 months on the Dutch version of the Health Assessment Questionnaire (D-HAQ) of 1.0 in groups 1 and 2 and 0.6 in groups 3 and 4 (P < 0.001). After 1 year, mean D-HAQ scores were 0.7 in groups 1 and 2 and 0.5 in groups 3 and 4 (P = 0.009). The median increases in total Sharp/Van der Heijde radiographic joint score were 2.0, 2.5, 1.0, and 0.5 in groups 1-4, respectively (P < 0.001). There were no significant differences in the number of adverse events and withdrawals between the groups.
Conclusion: In patients with early RA, initial combination therapy including either prednisone or infliximab resulted in earlier functional improvement and less radiographic damage after 1 year than did sequential monotherapy or step-up combination therapy.