Non-adherence to disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs is associated with higher disease activity in early arthritis patients in the first year of the disease

Arthritis Res Ther. 2015 Oct 8;17:281. doi: 10.1186/s13075-015-0801-4.


Introduction: Non-adherence to disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) hampers the targets of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treatment, obtaining low disease activity and decreasing radiological progression. This study investigates if, and to what extent, non-adherence to treatment would lead to a higher 28-joint count disease activity score (DAS28) in the first year after diagnosis.

Methods: Adult patients from an ongoing cohort study on treatment adherence were selected if they fulfilled the EULAR/ACR2010 criteria for RA, and were to start with their first DMARDs. Clinical variables were assessed at baseline and every 3 months. Non-adherence was continuously electronically measured and was defined as the proportion of days with a negative difference between expected and observed openings of the medication container out of the 3-month period before DAS28 measurement. Generalized linear mixed models were used to investigate whether the DAS28 related to non-adherence. Covariates included were age, sex, baseline DAS28, rheumatoid factor positivity, anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies (ACPA) positivity, anxiety, depression, weeks of treatment, number of DMARDs used, education level, use of subcutaneous methotrexate and biological use.

Results: One hundred and twenty patients met the inclusion criteria for RA. During the study period 17 patients became lost to follow-up. There was a decline in adherence over time for all DMARDs except for prednisone. Non-adherence is a predictor of disease activity in the first 6 months of therapy, adjusted for weeks of treatment, baseline DAS28, and baseline anxiety.

Conclusions: Non-adherence relates to disease activity. Therefore, interventions towards enhancing adherence can improve disease outcome.

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence*
  • Middle Aged


  • Antirheumatic Agents