Background To assess whether, in the real world of three early arthritis clinics, early referral could allow the best outcome, ie, remission, to be reached, and whether reaching the outcome was more dependent on therapy than on disease duration or vice versa.
Methods 1795 patients with early arthritis (symptom duration ≤12 months) were entered into a prospective follow-up study. 711 patients (39.6%) were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Each RA patient was treated according to the local algorithm, in three tertiary referral centres (representing a small province, a medium sized province and a metropolitan area, respectively). Remission, defined using the disease activity score in 28 joints (DAS28 <2.6) and American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria, was the major outcome evaluated at the 12-month follow-up.
Results DAS28 remission was achieved in 34.3% (range 19.5–49%) of RA patients and ACR remission in 15.2% (range 8.5–20.6%). At the multivariate logistic regression analysis only two variables emerged as predictors of the major outcome: being in very early rheumatoid arthritis (VERA; less than 12 weeks symptom duration at the time of first treatment) and being on disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARD) within 3 months from disease onset. Among RA patients in remission, only 10% of VERA subjects received an anti-TNF blocker compared with 32.2% of non-VERA patients (p=0.002, OR 0.23, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.64).
Conclusions In a real-world setting, the 12 weeks disease duration and an early intervention with DMARD represent the most significant opportunities to reach the major outcome, ie, remission of RA. Moreover, VERA represents a window of opportunity in terms of cost saving.
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