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Lancet. 1987 May 16;1(8542):1108-11.

Long-term outcome of treating rheumatoid arthritis: results after 20 years.


Outcome of therapy, in terms of functional capacity, radiological measures of joint damage, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), rheumatoid factor, and mortality, was determined prospectively in 112 consecutive rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients treated for 20 years at one centre, where a policy of active treatment was pursued with the use of gold, chloroquine, steroids, and, in resistant cases, penicillamine or cytotoxic drugs. By 20 years 35% were dead. Mortality was often attributable to RA. Function improved in the early years of treatment but declined considerably between 10 and 20 years. At 20 years 19% were severely disabled. Radiographs showed related evidence of increasing joint destruction. The ESR and rheumatoid factor levels changed little. Age, late presentation, and rheumatoid factor seropositivity at presentation were poor prognostic factors. The concept of "remission-inducing" drugs is fallacious. Early treatment may be advantageous, but the prognosis of RA is not good.

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