Objective: To evaluate the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings of hand involvement before and 1 year after treatment in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Method: MRI of the dominant hand was performed in 22 patients fulfilling the new criteria for early RA. The patients were divided into three groups. Nine had very early RA (VERA; disease duration < 3 months), seven had early RA (ERA; disease duration < 6 months), and six had established RA (ESTRA; disease duration > 12 months). The MRI protocol consisted of fat-suppressed T2, and plain and contrast-enhanced T1-weighted sequences. Assessment of bone marrow oedema, synovitis, and bone erosions was performed by the OMERACT RA MRI scoring system. Patients were treated with methotrexate (MTX) 0.2 mg/kg/body weight/week and prednisone 7.5 mg/day. Clinical assessment was evaluated using the Disease Activity Score for 28 joint indices (DAS28).
Results: After treatment, a significant decrease was observed: (a) in DAS28 of VERA (6.2 ± 0.9 vs. 2.4 ± 1.2), ERA (5.3 ± 0.8 vs. 2.8 ± 1.0), and ESTRA patients (5.7 ± 8.0 vs. 2.7 ± 0.7; p < 0.05); (b) in bone oedema (16.77 ± 13.78 vs. 5.88 ± 6.31) and synovitis (12.44 ± 6.44 vs. 2.88 ± 3.25) of VERA patients; and (c) in synovitis (7.57 ± 6.32 vs. 1.42 ± 1.81) of ERA patients (p < 0.05). No significant difference was found in erosions in any group.
Conclusion: Bone marrow oedema and synovitis decrease significantly when RA is diagnosed and treated early. MRI is useful in the early detection of these changes. MTX treatment resulted in a significant decrease in DAS28 score and significant improvement in bone oedema and synovitis.