We have investigated the influence of sulphasalazine, a second line antirheumatic drug, on the radiological progression of erosions in rheumatoid arthritis over a two year period in 41 patients. Hand radiograph scores deteriorated significantly over this period, but in a group of 31 patients in whom one year films were also available this deterioration was limited to the first year. This slowing of radiological deterioration was not related to 'normalisation' of the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). Compared with a 'control' group of 10 patients who had refused offers of second line therapy, sulphasalazine treated patients showed less deterioration over the two year period, and this difference was more marked than in previous studies of gold or penicillamine. No significant change was seen in large joint radiographs in sulphasalazine treated patients over two years, but this probably represents the poor sensitivity of the method of assessment. No significant correlation was seen between changes in inflammatory indices and slowing of radiological deterioration in erosion score. Thus sulphasalazine appears to slow the progression of radiological disease of the hands over the second year of treatment in a representative sample of patients who continue to receive treatment for two years.
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