Objectives To assess the relationship between joint tenderness, swelling and joint damage progression in individual joints and to evaluate the influence of treatment on these relationships.
Methods First-year data of the Behandel Strategieën (BeSt) study were used, in which patients recently diagnosed as having rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were randomly assigned into four different treatment strategies. Baseline and 1-year x-rays of the hands and feet were assessed using the Sharp–van der Heijde score (SHS). With generalised estimating equations, 3-monthly assessments of tender and swollen joints of year 1 were related to erosion progression, joint space narrowing (JSN) progression and total SHS progression at the individual joint level (definition >0.5 SHS units) in year 1, corrected for potential confounders and within-patient correlation for multiple joints per patient.
Results During year 1, 59% of all 13 959 joints analysed were ever tender and 45% ever swollen, 2.1% showed erosion progression, 1.9% JSN progression and 3.6% SHS progression. Swelling and tenderness were both independently associated with erosion and JSN progression with comparable OR, although with higher OR in the hands than in the feet. Local swelling and tenderness were not associated with local damage progression in patients initially treated with infliximab.
Conclusion Clinical signs of synovitis are associated with erosion and JSN progression in individual joints after 1 year in RA. A disconnect between synovitis and joint damage progression was observed at joint level in patients who were treated with methotrexate and infliximab as initial treatment, confirming the disconnect between synovitis and the development of joint damage in tumour necrosis factor blockers seen at patient level.
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