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Radiological outcome after four years of early versus delayed treatment strategy in patients with recent onset rheumatoid arthritis
  1. J van Aken1,
  2. L R Lard1,
  3. S le Cessie1,
  4. J M W Hazes2,
  5. F C Breedveld1,
  6. T W J Huizinga1
  1. 1Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands
  2. 2Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr J van Aken
    Department of Rheumatology, Leiden University Medical Centre, PO Box 9600, 2300 RC, Leiden, The Netherlands; j.van_aken{at}


Objective: To determine the effect of different treatment strategies (early versus delayed) on the radiological progression of joint damage during 4 years. Additionally, to determine the effect of treatment strategy on the association of HLA class II alleles and joint damage.

Methods: Progression of radiographic damage and association of radiographic damage and genetic predisposition were compared in two cohorts, one treated according to the delayed treatment strategy (initial treatment with analgesics), the other treated according to the early treatment strategy (treatment with disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) chloroquine or sulfasalazine). Radiographic damage was measured by the modified Sharp-van der Heijde method. Genetic predisposition was determined by high resolution HLA-DR and DQ typing.

Results: A completers-only analysis of 153 patients (originally 206 patients) in a non-randomised design showed less radiographic progression from 0 to 4 years in the early treatment group (median Sharp progression rate 1.3 points/year, n = 75) than in the delayed treatment group (2.5 points/year, n = 78) (p = 0.03). The progression from 1 to 4 years did not differ significantly between the groups. At 4 years, joint destruction in both groups was positively correlated with the presence of the shared epitope.

Conclusions: The beneficial effect of early DMARD treatment on the radiological progression of joint damage is still present at 4 years. However, the rate of joint destruction from 1 to 4 years did not differ between the delayed and early treatment group. Neither the radiographic nor the immunogenetic data suggest that longlasting disease modification has been induced by early treatment.

  • early rheumatoid arthritis
  • treatment
  • follow up
  • ACR, American College of Rheumatology
  • DMARDs, disease modifying antirheumatic drugs
  • EAC, early arthritis clinic
  • ESR, erythrocyte sedimentation rate
  • NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • RA, rheumatoid arthritis
  • RF, rheumatoid factor
  • SE, shared epitope
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