Objective To assess the relationship between a decrease in disease activity score (DAS) and functional ability during 5 years of DAS-steered treatment in recent-onset rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, taking into account absolute DAS levels and follow-up duration.
Methods Data from the BeSt study were used, in which treatment was aimed at achieving DAS ≤2.4. The longitudinal relationship between 3-monthly measured DAS and health assessment questionnaire (HAQ) score was assessed using linear mixed modelling during 5 years of treatment, with DAS and HAQ 3 months earlier, change in DAS in last 3 months (delta DAS), time (log-transformed) and their interactions as determinants.
Results Predictors for HAQ were: previous DAS, delta DAS, ln time, the interaction previous DAS×delta DAS, and previous HAQ. The interaction ln time×delta DAS was non-significant, indicating that the association between delta DAS and HAQ was independent of follow-up duration. A decrease from a higher DAS was associated with a smaller HAQ decrease than for a similar decrease from a lower DAS, indicating a non-linear relationship between DAS and HAQ.
Conclusion At any time during 5 years of follow-up, a decrease in DAS was associated with a better functional ability. The magnitude of HAQ improvement depends on the DAS decrease and on the absolute DAS level.
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