Rheumatoid arthritis: workload and outcome over 10 years

Q J Med. 1991 Jun;79(290):461-76.


Rheumatoid arthritis remains a chronic disabling disorder in which medical and surgical intervention may provide amelioration but not cure. In this study a cohort of 123 rheumatoid patients were followed for a period of 10 years from the time of prescription of their initial second-line agent. The workload involved in managing articular, extra-articular and intercurrent disease in these patients has been documented and outcome in relation to continued use of 'disease modifying' therapy evaluated. At 10 years 24 patients (20 per cent) had died and 7 (5 per cent) were not traced; of the 92 (75 per cent) who were assessed, three had become wheelchairbound, two for reasons other than rheumatoid arthritis. Seventy-one per cent of patients required joint surgery, 36 per cent management of peptic ulcer and 45 per cent experienced major episodes of sepsis. Analysis of the results in the 92 patients who were evaluated at 10 years showed significant improvement in Ritchie articular index, pain score, morning stiffness, haemoglobin, platelets, ESR, total globulins, IgG and IgM. Grip strength and Lee functional index showed a trend towards deterioration which did not reach significance. Sixty-seven (73 per cent) of the 92 patients remained on a second- or third-line agent at 10 years (median duration of treatment 107 months); 25 (27 per cent) were not receiving such therapy (median duration of second- and third-line therapy 13 months). The group remaining on treatment showed significant improvement similar to that of the total study group. Those not on treatment improved only for articular index; Lee functional index deteriorated significantly. There was a correlation between area under the curve for ESR over 10 years and radiological progression of disease in hands (r = 0.29, p = 0.026) and in knees and hips (r = 0.3748, p = 0.012) over the 10 year period. Radiographic score correlated well with Lee functional index at the outset and at 10 years and also with the change in the radiographic score over the 10-year period. Unlike the results of previous studies, there was no morbidity from vertebral collapse; this may be related to the low dose of corticosteroids in this cohort (seven patients received systemic corticosteroids). Thus while the aim of treating patients for prolonged periods with second- or third-line therapy was achieved in the majority with no overt evidence of cumulative toxicity, sustained medical and surgical intervention was and will be needed in order to minimize disability in these and other patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / complications
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / surgery
  • Arthrography
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hematologic Diseases / complications
  • Humans
  • Infections / complications
  • Joints / surgery
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Middle Aged
  • Peptic Ulcer / complications