Updated 28 April 2017

Early treatment gets better results for rheumatoid arthritis

Researchers found that patients who were treated within six months of developing the first signs of rheumatoid arthritis did better in the long run.


Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune condition distinguished by inflammation of the peripheral joints of the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and feet, usually on both sides of the body.

Treating rheumatoid arthritis early may make for better outcomes, a new study suggests.

Early death less likely

Patients who were treated within six months of developing the first signs of the autoimmune disease did better in the long run and were less likely to suffer early death, British researchers found.

The findings stem from an analysis of more than 600 patients who were initially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) between 1990 and 1994. They were tracked for over 20 years.

Over the study time frame, investigators assessed key symptoms of RA, such as swollen and/or tender joints, and indications of disability. All deaths were also noted.

The research team found that patients who started treatment for RA within the first half-year after the first symptoms surfaced tended to have no greater levels of disability over a 20-year period than patients who required no treatment.

A better future

And while roughly 44% of the patients died during the study period, the team observed that early treatment translated into a notably lower mortality risk.

The findings were published online in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology.

rheumatoid arthritis,health

"This research emphasises the importance of early treatment and the long-term benefits of early treatment," study author Dr Suzanne Verstappen, from the University of Manchester, said in a journal news release.

"In the early 1990s," she added, "when this study started, only 30% of patients received early treatment, but this number has increased significantly in the last decade.

"It's expected that in the next 10 years, newly diagnosed patients will have a better future with respect to functional ability, less severe disease activity and improved quality of life," Verstappen said.

Read more:

Risks of rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis vs. osteoarthritis

Symptoms of osteoarthritis


Ask the Expert

Arthritis expert

Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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