Objective: To evaluate whether early combined therapy with methotrexate (MTX) and sulfasalazine (SSZ) during the first year in early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) induces long term beneficial effects, compared with monotherapy, when the further treatment strategy is a free choice.
Methods: Study design: five year multicentre prospective longitudinal trial. Participants: 146/205 patients with RA previously included in a one year prospective randomised trial comparing the effects of treatment with MTX, SSZ, or a combination of both. Criteria for inclusion: patients with early RA (⩽1 year duration). Follow up: between the end of years 1 and 5, patients were followed up and treated by their own rheumatologist, who was allowed to indicate any treatment. Outcome measures: disease activity score (DAS), health assessment questionnaire (HAQ), and Sharp/van der Heijde radiological score at baseline and after five years of follow up. Analysis: comparison of the five year follow up DAS, HAQ, and radiological scores in patients given combined and single treatment during the first year.
Results: At the end of the five years of follow up, the patients primarily receiving single or combined treatment had similar mean DAS, HAQ, and radiographic scores.
Conclusion: Treatment of patients with early RA using combined therapy with MTX and SSZ during the first year did not influence the long term inflammatory status, or disability, or structural changes, compared with single disease modifying antirheumatic drug treatment.
- early rheumatoid arthritis
- combined treatment
- disease modifying antirheumatic drugs
- ANOVA, analysis of variance
- DAS, disease activity score
- DMARDs, disease modifying antirheumatic drugs
- HAQ, Health Assessment Questionnaire
- MTX, methotrexate
- RA, rheumatoid arthritis
- SSZ, sulfasalazine
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