Clinical course and remission rate in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis: relationship to outcome after 5 years

Br J Rheumatol. 1998 Dec;37(12):1324-9. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/37.12.1324.


Objective: To investigate the clinical course in early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients followed prospectively, to relate course to outcome after 5 yr, and to try to identify prognostic features.

Methods: A total of 183 patients with definite RA and a mean disease duration of 11 months were included. Of these, 75% were rheumatoid factor (RF) positive; 85% carried the shared epitope, 32% on both alleles. Most patients were assessed every 6 months. Disability was evaluated with the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) and radiographic findings according to Larsen. Remission was defined in two ways: with the American Rheumatism Association (ARA) criteria and as 'no arthritis at least at one follow-up visit'.

Results: Twenty per cent achieved ARA-defined remission periods of at least 6 months duration; 21 were spontaneous and 18 drug induced. Average length of remission was 20.5 months. The remission periods constituted 7% of follow-up for all patients. Another 36% achieved remission according to the second definition. All 56% were considered to have a relapsing-remitting disease pattern, in contrast to the remaining 44% with a persistent disease pattern. More patients with persistent disease were treated with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and had also received a larger number of different drugs. Outcome after 5 yr regarding disability, joint inflammation and joint damage was worse for patients with persistent disease. Neither ARA-defined remission nor disease pattern could be accurately predicted.

Conclusions: Long-term ARA-defined remission was rare, constituting 7% of follow-up for the entire cohort. For those 20% achieving remission, this period represented 34% of their follow-up. A total of 56% had a relapsing-remitting disease pattern and 44% had a persistent disease pattern. This classification had prognostic implications with persistency being a bad prognostic sign.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antirheumatic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / blood
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology
  • Disease Progression
  • Epitopes / analysis
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Remission, Spontaneous
  • Rheumatoid Factor / blood
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Epitopes
  • Rheumatoid Factor