OBJECTIVE: To study whether recombinant human erythropoietin (r-hu-Epo) improves anaemia and reduces disease activity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and anaemia of chronic disease (ACD). METHODS: A 52 week placebo controlled randomised double blind trial with r-hu-Epo was performed in 70 patients with active rheumatoid arthritis and ACD. Thirty four patients were treated with 240 U kg-1 r-hu-Epo subcutaneously, initially three doses weekly, while 36 patients received placebo. RESULTS: A significant increase of haemoglobin from a median of 112 to 135 g litre-1 occurred in the Epo group within six weeks and could be sustained with reduced doses (median 240 U kg-1 once weekly). Sustained benefit compared to placebo was also apparent by six weeks for disease activity, as indicated by the Paulus 20% response rate. Of patients in the Epo group, 32% eventually showed a Paulus 20% response, compared to 8% of the placebo group (P = 0.016). Significant differences in favour of the Epo group were also observed in the secondary disease activity measures Ritchie index, number of swollen joints, pain score, ESR, and patients' global assessment of disease activity. C reactive protein concentrations did not change significantly. CONCLUSIONS: Treatment of ACD in rheumatoid arthritis with r-hu-Epo is effective in restoring normal haemoglobin levels and also exerts a beneficial effect on disease activity.
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