Treatment of early rheumatoid arthritis: concepts in management

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2011 Apr;40(5):371-88. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2010.10.004. Epub 2011 Feb 4.


Objectives: The early diagnosis and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are important goals for rheumatologists. This article provides a review of the literature describing evolving concepts in the treatment of early RA, studies that evaluate treatment strategies using a predefined target, and methods to identify patients who are at higher risk for progressive joint damage.

Methods: We conducted a PubMed search for randomized trials using the terms "early rheumatoid arthritis" and subsequently "tight control" to compare the outcomes of studies using early intervention with biologics and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) in early RA and also to compare outcomes of strategies of treatment using a predefined target.

Results: The study designs and outcomes of clinical trials of DMARDs and biologic agents in early RA are presented. Early, prompt therapy with combination DMARDs or biologics combined with methotrexate leads to improved outcomes for patients with early RA. In studies where treatment was targeted to a specific outcome, such as remission, the target was achieved more often with targeted treatment than when patients received routine care. Patients who are more likely to experience a rapid disease course that is associated with joint destruction can be identified based on clinical and laboratory variables shown to be predictors of rapid progression.

Conclusions: Early assessment and close monitoring of patients with early RA, targeting remission where possible, are important to optimize long-term outcomes. Specific treatment can be selected from among the many proven therapies to obtain the best results for the individual patient.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Biological Products / therapeutic use
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Early Diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Biological Products
  • Methotrexate