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Am J Med. 2001 Oct 15;111(6):446-51.

Early versus delayed treatment in patients with recent-onset rheumatoid arthritis: comparison of two cohorts who received different treatment strategies.

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Department of Rheumatology, Leiden University Medical Center, 2300 RC Leiden, The Netherlands.



To compare the effect of delayed and early treatment strategies on disease outcome in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.


Between 1993 and 1995, 109 patients diagnosed with probable or definite rheumatoid arthritis of recent onset were initially treated with analgesics; if they had persistent active disease, they were treated subsequently with the disease-modifying drugs chloroquine or salazopyrine (delayed treatment). Between 1996 and 1998, similar patients (n = 97) were promptly treated with either chloroquine or salazopyrine (early treatment).


The median lag to the initiation of disease-modifying treatment was 15 days in the early treatment group and 123 days in the delayed treatment group. There was less radiologic joint damage after 2 years in the early treatment group (median Sharp score, 3.5; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1 to 7) compared with the delayed treatment group (median Sharp score, 10; 95% CI: 5 to 15; P <0.05). The median area under the curve of the 2-year disease activity score was lower in the early treatment group (64 units; 95% CI: 59 to 69 units) compared with the delayed treatment group (73 units; 95% CI: 69 to 77 units; P = 0.002).


In this nonrandomized comparison, early introduction of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs was associated with a better disease outcome after 2 years.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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