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Evaluating relationships between symptom duration and persistence of rheumatoid arthritis: does a window of opportunity exist? Results on the Leiden Early Arthritis Clinic and ESPOIR cohorts
  1. J A B van Nies1,
  2. R Tsonaka2,
  3. C Gaujoux-Viala3,
  4. B Fautrel4,
  5. A H M van der Helm-van Mil1
  1. 1Department of Rheumatology, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands
  2. 2Department of Medical Statistics and Bioinformatics, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands
  3. 3Department of Rheumatology, Nîmes University Hospital, EA 2415, Montpellier I University, Nîmes, France
  4. 4Université Pierre et Marie Curie Curie—Paris 6, GRC08, Institut Pierre Louis d'Epidémiologie et Santé Publiqu, Paris, France
  1. Correspondence to Jessica A.B. van Nies, Department of Rheumatology, Leiden University Medical Center, P.O. Box 9600, Leiden 2300 RC, The Netherlands; j.a.b.van_nies{at}


Background A prolonged symptom or disease duration at treatment initiation is associated with unfavourable outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It is unknown whether this relation is linear, referring to a common ‘the-earlier-the-better principle’, or whether a transient time frame in which the disease is more susceptible to treatment exists, referring to a ‘window of opportunity’. To elucidate this, we evaluated the shape of the associations of symptom duration with persistence of RA.

Methods Patients with 1987 RA treated with disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) in the Leiden Early Arthritis Clinic (EAC, n=738) and Evaluation et Suivi de POlyarthrites Indifférenciées Récentes (ESPOIR) (n=533) were studied. Cox proportional hazards regression models using natural cubic splines were performed; the log-HR on DMARD-free sustained remission (the opposite of RA persistence) during 5-year follow-up was plotted against symptom duration. Discrimination was measured using time-dependent receiver operator characteristic curves. Subanalyses were performed stratified for the DMARDs used (methotrexate or other conventional DMARDs) and for anticitrullinated peptide antibody (ACPA).

Results 11.5% (85/738) and 5.4% (29/533) of EAC and ESPOIR RA patients achieved DMARD-free sustained remission. In both cohorts and all analyses, the curves depicting the log-HRs on remission in relation to symptom duration were not linear. The symptom duration with optimal discriminative ability was 14.9 weeks (95% CI 12.3 to 16.0; area under the curve (AUC) 0.61) in the EAC and 19.1 weeks (95% CI 12.3 to 28.0; AUC 0.59) in ESPOIR. For ACPA-positive RA, this was 11.4 weeks (95% CI 7.7 to 79.0; AUC 0.56) and for ACPA-negative RA 15.0 weeks (95% CI 9.7 to 48.7; AUC 0.56).

Conclusions The association between symptom duration and RA persistence is not linear, suggesting the presence of a confined period in which RA is more susceptible to treatment.

  • Early Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Epidemiology
  • Outcomes research

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