Treating rheumatoid arthritis early on is the key to better results and decreased disability, according to several studies recently presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting.
Dr. Krishnan and colleagues at Stanford University showed that the likelihood of being disabled from rheumatoid arthritis decreased three fold from 1960 to 1998. Similarly, Dr. da Silva at the Mayo Clinic found that there was less need for orthopedic surgery for joint damage in patients diagnosed after 1985. Both groups of investigators concluded that joint damage from rheumatoid arthritis was decreasing because of recent developments in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
These finding are supported in a study by Dr. Frederick Wolfe and colleagues at the National Data Bank for Rheumatic Diseases, who studied rates of hospitalization among people with rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Wolfe found people who received treatment with one of three medications for RA (methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine and sulfasalazine) were less likely to be hospitalized than people with RA who did not receive these treatments.
Data presented by Dr. Silman and colleagues at the University of Manchester, England showed that earlier use of medication was associated with less joint damage. In addition, Dr. Yelin and colleagues from the University of California at San Francisco, Wyeth-Ayerst and Immunex Corporation, reported that treatment with etanercept, one of the new biologic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, was associated with less time missed from work.
All these studies confirm that the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis has improved dramatically in recent years and continues to improve with the availability of new biologic therapies. This means that people with rheumatoid arthritis who receive early treatment can have a better quality of life.