OBJECTIVES--To study the functional outcome in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who tolerate second line drug therapy for five years. METHODS--We enrolled into prospective controlled trials, 190 patients with rheumatoid arthritis who tolerated 'disease modifying' antirheumatic drug therapy for five years. Demographic data were recorded. Disease activity was measured every six months for two years and annually thereafter, using clinical and laboratory variables. Patient function was measured using the modified Health Assessment Questionnaire. The change in each variable was analysed using paired Wilcoxon tests. RESULTS--Patient function improved significantly compared with baseline. The improvement was maximal after one to two years, and thereafter function started to decline slowly. After five years of treatment the patients' function was still significantly better than before treatment had started. There were highly significant improvements in all variables measured to assess disease activity, which remained well controlled throughout the five year period. CONCLUSION--Good control of disease activity and improved function can be achieved long term in approximately 30% of RA patients treated with injectable gold, sulphasalazine or penicillamine.
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