Comparison of sulfasalazine and placebo in the treatment of ankylosing spondylitis. A Department of Veterans Affairs Cooperative Study

Arthritis Rheum. 1996 Dec;39(12):2004-12. doi: 10.1002/art.1780391209.


Objective: To determine whether sulfasalazine (SSZ) at a dosage of 2,000 mg/day is effective for the treatment of active ankylosing spondylitis (AS) that is not controlled with nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug therapy.

Methods: Two hundred sixty-four patients with AS were recruited from 15 clinics, randomized (double-blind) to SSZ or placebo treatment, and followed up for 36 weeks. Treatment response was based on morning stiffness, back pain, and physician and patient global assessments.

Results: While longitudinal analysis revealed a trend favoring SSZ in the middle of treatment, no difference was seen at the end of treatment. Response rates were 38.2% for SSZ and 36.1% for placebo (P = 0.73). The Westergren erythrocyte sedimentation rate declined more with SSZ treatment than with placebo (P < 0.0001). AS patients with associated peripheral arthritis showed improvement that favored SSZ (P = 0.02). Adverse reactions were fewer than expected and were mainly due to nonspecific gastrointestinal complaints.

Conclusion: SSZ at a dosage of 2,000 mg/day does not seem to be more effective than placebo in the treatment of AS patients with chronic, longstanding disease. SSZ is well tolerated and may be more effective than placebo in the treatment of AS patients with peripheral joint involvement. This effect is more pronounced in treatment of the peripheral arthritis in this subgroup of AS patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Patient Compliance
  • Placebos / therapeutic use*
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing / drug therapy*
  • Sulfasalazine / adverse effects
  • Sulfasalazine / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Refusal


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Placebos
  • Sulfasalazine