Objective: In a previous clinical trial of patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it was determined that patients who received 10 mg of prednisone per day for 2 years had less radiographic joint damage compared with those who received placebo. Our goal was to investigate whether this beneficial effect persisted after the end of the trial.
Methods: A blinded assessment of radiographic joint damage was performed approximately 3 years after the end of the original 2-year study. Twenty-four patients from the original prednisone group (60%) and 28 patients from the original placebo group (68%) participated in this followup study. At the end of the original trial, prednisone dosages were tapered down in the prednisone group and stopped, if possible. Patients from the original prednisone group took prednisone during 35% of the followup period (approximately 1 year) at a mean daily dose of approximately 5 mg. Two patients from the original placebo group started taking prednisone during followup. Radiographs of the hands and feet were scored according to the van der Heijde modification of the Sharp method.
Results: During 3 additional years of followup, radiographic scores showed significantly less progression in the original prednisone group than in the original placebo group. Radiographic damage in the original prednisone group did not show an accelerated rate of progression during the followup period.
Conclusion: The inhibition of radiographic joint damage in patients with early active RA treated with 10 mg of prednisone per day for 2 years seems to persist after the end of prednisone therapy.