Early rheumatoid arthritis: strategies for prevention and management

Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2007 Feb;21(1):27-42. doi: 10.1016/j.berh.2006.08.011.


The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has changed considerably in the past few years since new tools and new concepts have been developed and validated highlighting the need for guidelines focused on early RA. The treatment goal should now be to achieve clinical remission, in order to prevent structural damage and long-term disability. A very early use of effective disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) is a key point in patients at risk of developing persistent and erosive arthritis. Intensive treatment such as combination DMARDs plus steroids or biological therapies can induce a high rate of remission, control of radiological progression and provide better outcome than DMARD monotherapy in early RA and should be considered in at risk patients. Regarding the risk:benefit ratio and the cost-effectiveness of these strategies, a reasonable course of action in early RA should be initial DMARD monotherapy such as methotrexate. However, a close monitoring of disease activity and radiographic progression is mandatory in order to change DMARD therapy and strategy if necessary. Systemic glucocorticoids are effective in the short-term relief of pain and swelling and should be considered, but mainly as a temporary therapy part of the DMARD strategy. Information and education for patients, as well as some non-pharmacological interventions, can be proposed as treatment adjuncts. Finally, the reduction or stopping of smoking, which could prevent the development and progression of early RA, is the only prevention tool currently available.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / prevention & control
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Disease Management*
  • Disease Progression
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Remission Induction
  • Risk Factors


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Glucocorticoids