Age at onset determines severity and choice of treatment in early rheumatoid arthritis: a prospective study

Arthritis Res Ther. 2014 Apr 14;16(2):R94. doi: 10.1186/ar4540.


Introduction: Disease activity, severity and comorbidity contribute to increased mortality in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). We evaluated the impact of age at disease onset on prognostic risk factors and treatment in patients with early disease.

Methods: In this study, 950 RA patients were followed regularly from the time of inclusion (<12 months from symptom onset) for disease activity (erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP), tender and/or swollen joints, Visual Analogue Scale pain and global scores, and Disease Activity Score in 28 joints (DAS28)) and function (Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ)). Disease severity, measured on the basis of radiographs of the hands and feet (erosions based on Larsen score), extraarticular disease, nodules, and comorbidities and treatment (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), corticosteroids, biologics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) were recorded at the time of inclusion and at 5 years. Autoantibodies (rheumatoid factor, antinuclear antibodies and antibodies against cyclic citrullinated peptides (ACPAs)) and genetic markers (human leucocyte antibody (HLA) shared epitope and protein tyrosine phosphatase nonreceptor type 22 (PTPN22)) were analysed at the time of inclusion. Data were stratified as young-onset RA (YORA) and late-onset RA (LORA), which were defined as being below or above the median age at the time of onset of RA (58 years).

Results: LORA was associated with lower frequency of ACPA (P < 0.05) and carriage of PTPN22-T variant (P < 0.01), but with greater disease activity at the time of inclusion measured on the basis of ESR (P < 0.001), CRP (P < 0.01) and accumulated disease activity (area under the curve for DAS28 score) at 6 months (P < 0.01), 12 months (P < 0.01) and 24 months (P < 0.05), as well as a higher HAQ score (P < 0.01) compared with YORA patients. At baseline and 24 months, LORA was more often associated with erosions (P < 0.01 for both) and higher Larsen scores (P < 0.001 for both). LORA was more often treated with corticosteroids (P < 0.01) and less often with methotrexate (P < 0.001) and biologics (P < 0.001). YORA was more often associated with early DMARD treatment (P < 0.001). The results of multiple regression analyses supported our findings regarding the impact of age on chosen treatment.

Conclusion: YORA patients were more frequently ACPA-positive than LORA patients. LORA was more often associated with erosions, higher Larsen scores, higher disease activity and higher HAQ scores at baseline. Nevertheless, YORA was treated earlier with DMARDs, whilst LORA was more often treated with corticosteroids and less often with DMARDs in early-stage disease. These findings could have implications for the development of comorbidities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / epidemiology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Registries
  • Young Adult


  • Antirheumatic Agents