Aggressive treatment of early rheumatoid arthritis: recognizing the window of opportunity and treating to target goals

Am J Manag Care. 2010 Nov;16(9 Suppl):S249-58.


Evidence supports the use of aggressive therapy for patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Clinical outcomes in patients with early RA can improve with a treat-to-target approach that sets the goal at disease remission. The current selection of antirheumatic therapies, including conventional and biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), has made disease remission a realistic target for patients with early RA. The challenge is selecting the optimal antirheumatic drug or combination of drugs for initial and subsequent therapy to balance the clinical benefits, risks, and economic considerations. In some cases, the use of biologic agents as part of the treatment regimen has shown superior results compared with conventional DMARDs alone in halting the progression of disease, especially in reducing radiographic damage. However, the use of biologic agents as initial therapy is challenged by cost-effectiveness analyses, which favor the use of conventional DMARDs. The use of biologic agents may be justified in certain patients with poor prognostic factors or those who experience an inadequate response to conventional DMARDs as a means to slow or halt disease progression and its associated disability. In these cases, the higher cost of treatment with biologic agents may be offset by decreased societal costs, such as lost work productivity, and increased health-related quality of life. Further research is needed to understand optimal strategies for balancing costs, benefits, and risks of antirheumatic drugs. Some key questions are (1) when biologic agents are appropriate for initial therapy, and (2) when to conclude that response to conventional DMARDs is inadequate and biologic agents should be initiated.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antirheumatic Agents / economics
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Remission Induction
  • Risk Assessment
  • Time Factors


  • Antirheumatic Agents