The treatment of elderly-onset rheumatoid arthritis pursues the same objectives as in younger patients: to control the clinical manifestations, to prevent structural damage, to preserve function, and to decrease excess mortality. In the elderly, the presence of co-morbidities and increased rate of drug-related adverse effects raise specific therapeutic challenges. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are associated with cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and renal adverse events. The role for corticosteroid therapy remains controversial. Although glucocorticoids provide a short-term decrease in clinical activity and probably a medium-term decrease in structural damage, these benefits are offset by numerous adverse effects. Methotrexate was effective in clinical trials and observational studies and did not produce a higher adverse event rate compared to younger patients, provided renal function was normal. Data on the efficacy of TNFalpha antagonists in therapeutic trials are available only for etanercept. Disease activity decreased and function improved. The adverse event rate was higher in older patients, but this was also true of the conventional drugs used as comparators. Registry data confirm that TNFalpha antagonist therapy is effective in RA. An increased rate of infections was found only in some registries. To combat the 2-fold cardiovascular risk increase associated with RA, disease activity should be stringently controlled and all cardiovascular risk factors managed aggressively.
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