Pulsed methylprednisolone (PMP) has been shown to produce clinical improvement and reduction in the ESR and acute phase protein concentrations in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis and has been advocated for use either as an alternative to slow-acting antirheumatoid drugs (SAARDs) or in conjunction with SAARDs to accelerate the response to treatment. To test these potential roles for PMP 45 patients with active RA were randomly allocated to treatment with PMP alone, PMP + sulphasalazine (SAS - at a maintenance dose of 2.0 g/day), or PMP + D-penicillamine (DPA - at a maintenance dose of 500 mg/day). In each case three 1 g intravenous infusions were given on alternate days during the first week of the trial. Patients were monitored for 24 weeks by standard clinical and laboratory measurements. All three treatment groups showed significant clinical and laboratory improvements at two weeks. With PMP + DPA and PMP + SAS these improvements were sustained and were not significantly different in these two treatment groups. However, in the 'PMP only' group ESR and CRP rose to pretreatment values by eight weeks. Twelve patients withdrew from the study owing to a relapse of the RA. No serious adverse effects were seen in the 'PMP only' group. Both combination regimens were well tolerated; adverse effects seen were attributable to either DPA or SAS. We conclude that PMP alone is insufficient for treatment of RA but can be used successfully in combination with either DPA or SAS. A comparison between these results obtained from two previous groups of 15 patients treated with DPA alone and SAS alone (using the same study design) shows that PMP accelerated the response to therapy by at least six weeks.
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