Objective: Remission has become an attainable goal of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treatment, especially since the advent of biologic antirheumatic therapy. Because little is known about patients who achieve disease remission with conventional treatment, we used 2 large independent inception cohorts to study the prevalence of and predictive factors for disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD)-free sustained remission after treatment with conventional therapy.
Methods: Remission of disease was assessed in 454 patients from the Leiden Early Arthritis Clinic (EAC) and in 895 patients from the British Early Rheumatoid Arthritis Study (ERAS) who fulfilled the American College of Rheumatology 1987 revised criteria for the classification of RA and were treated with conventional therapy. Sustained DMARD-free remission was defined as fulfilling the following criteria for at least 1 year: 1) no current DMARD use, 2) no swollen joints, and 3) classification as DMARD-free remission by the patient's rheumatologist. Predictive factors were identified by Cox regression analysis.
Results: Sustained DMARD-free remission was achieved by 68 of 454 patients (15.0%) in the Leiden EAC and by 84 of 895 patients (9.4%) in the ERAS. Six factors were associated with sustained DMARD-free remission in both cohorts: acute onset, short symptom duration before inclusion, not smoking, little radiographic damage at baseline, absence of IgM rheumatoid factor (IgM-RF), and absence of HLA shared epitope alleles. In the ERAS, low disease activity at baseline was also predictive of remission. Multivariate analyses revealed symptom duration and the absence of autoantibodies (anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide 2 and IgM-RF) as independent predictors.
Conclusion: Sustained DMARD-free remission in RA patients treated with conventional therapy is not uncommon. Symptom duration at presentation and the absence of autoantibodies are associated with sustained DMARD-free remission.