Objectives: Tight control studies including regular assessments of disease activity have shown that this approach has beneficial effects on disease activity, disability and joint damage in treating RA patients. Some of these studies included tight control with protocolized treatment, while others applied tight control without protocolized treatment. The aim of this study was to compare the effects of tight control with usual care and to compare the effects of tight control studies with and without protocolized treatment adjustments.
Methods: A systematic literature search was performed to identify clinical trials in RA that evaluated tight control strategies in comparison with usual care. Two types of study were compared: (i) those using disease activity monitoring with protocolized treatment adjustments, and (ii) those using disease activity monitoring without protocolized treatment adjustments. The databases PubMed and Cochrane were searched from 1995 up to 2009. Primary outcome measure was the mean change in the 28-joint DAS (DAS-28), which was used in a random-effects meta-analysis.
Results: Six controlled trials regarding tight control in RA patients were included in the meta-analysis. In all trials, patients treated in the tight control arms had significantly higher DAS-28 responses than patients treated according to usual care [weighted mean difference (WMD) = 0.59, P < 0.001]. Moreover, tight control was significantly more effective (P < 0.001) by means of protocolized treatment adjustments (WMD = 0.97) compared with non-protocolized monitoring of disease activity (WMD = 0.25).
Conclusion: Tight control in RA resulted in significantly better clinical outcomes than usual care. It is suggested but not proved that tight control with protocolized treatment adjustments is more beneficial than if no such protocol is used.