BACKGROUND: How have the long term outcomes of RA improved in the last decade?
METHODS: Patients with DMARD naïve RA were randomized to 4 treatment strategies: 1. sequential DMARD monotherapy, 2. step-up combination therapy, 3. initial combination therapy including prednisone or 4. including infliximab. Treatment-to-target was aimed at DAS≤2.4 (three-monthly calculations). Functional ability (HAQ), radiologic damage progression (Sharp/vanderHeijde Score) and overall survival were reported.
RESULTS: Patients in arms 3 and 4 showed earlier clinical improvement. Up to 50% achieved DAS-remission (<1.6), up to 29% achieved drug free remission. Damage progression was well suppressed (median after 10years in completers 2 SHS points), functional ability approached normality (mean HAQ 0.6). There was no increased mortality (Standardized Mortality Ratio 1.16, 95% CI 0.92-1.46).
CONCLUSIONS: Early treatment determines early clinical improvement, treatment-to-target determines long term outcomes. Prevention of relevant radiologic damage progression and disability, drug free remission and normalized survival are realistic goals.