Objective: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) should start treatment early with the aim of suppressing the inflammatory process completely. It is not known if this strategy should, or can, be continued in later disease.
Methods: In a multicentre, randomized, observer-blinded, controlled trial, 466 patients with established RA (>5 yr), on stable therapy for at least 6 months, were randomized to adequate symptom control/shared care setting (SCSC) or aggressive treatment/hospital setting (ATH). All were reviewed annually by a rheumatologist. The primary outcome after 3 yr was the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ). Others included the OMERACT core set and the Disease Activity Score (DAS) 28.
Results: Three hundred and ninety-nine patients completed the trial. There was a significant deterioration in HAQ in both arms. Only the physician global score differed between the arms.
Conclusions: The trial showed no additional benefit of intensified treatment with traditional disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) in patients with stable, established RA. It proved hard to suppress C-reactive protein levels. Patients in the SCSC arm were able to initiate treatment changes when their symptoms deteriorated without frequent hospital assessment. Pending further evidence, the model of shared care with annual hospital review is as good as 4-monthly hospital review for these patients.