Patients with rheumatoid arthritis undergoing surgery: how should we deal with antirheumatic treatment?

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2007 Apr;36(5):278-86. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2006.10.003. Epub 2007 Jan 3.


Objectives: To review published data on the perioperative management of antirheumatic treatment and perioperative outcome in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods: The review is based on a MEDLINE (PubMed) search of the English-language literature from 1965 to 2005, using the index keywords "rheumatoid arthritis" and "surgery". As co-indexing terms the different disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and "glucocorticoids" were used. In addition, citations from retrieved articles were scanned for additional references. Furthermore, because the number of published articles is so limited, relevant abstracts presented at congresses were included in the analysis.

Results: Continuation of methotrexate (MTX) appears to be safe in the perioperative period. Only a limited number of studies address the use of leflunomide and the results are conflicting. Because of the very long drug half-life, its discontinuation would need to be of long duration and is probably not necessary. Data on hydroxychloroquine do not show increased risks of infection. Regarding sulfasalazine, there are no studies from which definite answers could be drawn on whether it should be withheld perioperatively. Preliminary data show that the risk of infections during treatment with TNF-blocking agents may be lower than initially expected. The only available recommendation (Club Rhumatismes et Inflammation, CRI) suggests discontinuing the drugs before surgery for several weeks, depending on the risk of infection and the drug used. They should not be restarted until wound healing is complete. To avoid the antiplatelet effect during surgery, NSAIDs other than aspirin should be withheld for a duration of 4 to 5 times the drug half-life. Patients with chronic glucocorticoid therapy and suppressed hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis need perioperative supplementation.

Conclusions: While continuation of MTX likely is safe, data on other DMARDs are sparse. In particular, more data on the perioperative use of the biologic agents are needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Contraindications
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Humans
  • Perioperative Care / methods*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative*
  • Surgical Wound Infection / etiology
  • Surgical Wound Infection / prevention & control
  • Wound Healing / drug effects


  • Antirheumatic Agents