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Does a family history of RA influence the clinical presentation and treatment response in RA?
  1. Thomas Frisell1,
  2. Saedis Saevarsdottir2,3,
  3. Johan Askling1,3
  1. 1Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Department of Medicine Solna, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  2. 2Institute for Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  3. 3Department of Rheumatology, Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to Dr Thomas Frisell, Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Eugeniahemmet T2, Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm 17176, Sweden; Thomas.Frisell{at}


Objectives To assess whether family history of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), among the strongest risk factors for developing RA, also carries information on the clinical presentation and treatment response.

Methods The prospective Swedish Rheumatology register was linked to family history of RA, defined as diagnosed RA in any first-degree relative, ascertained through the Swedish Multi-Generation and Patient registers. Clinical presentation was examined among patients with early RA 2000–2011 (symptom onset <12 months before inclusion, N=6869), and response to methotrexate (MTX) monotherapy in the subset starting this treatment (N=4630). Response to tumour necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFi) was examined among all patients with RA starting a TNFi as the first biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drug 2000–2011 (N=9249). Association of family history with clinical characteristics, drug survival, European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) response and change in disease activity at 3 and 6 months was estimated using linear and generalised logistic regression models. Correlation in relatives’ response measures was also assessed.

Results Patients with early RA with family history of RA were more often rheumatoid factor positive, but with no other clinically meaningful differences in their clinical presentation. Family history of RA did not predict response to MTX or TNFi, with the possible exception of no versus good EULAR response to TNFi at 6 months (OR=1.4, 95% CI 1.1 to 1.7). Having a relative who discontinued TNFi within a year increased the odds of doing the same (OR=3.7, 95% CI 1.8 to 7.5), although we found no significant familial correlations in change in disease activity measures.

Conclusions Family history of RA did not modify the clinical presentation of RA or predict response to standard treatment with MTX or TNFi. Treatment response, particularly drug survival, may itself be familial.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Methotrexate
  • Anti-TNF
  • Treatment
  • Outcomes research

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