To evaluate whether the clinical advantages observed after 1 year in a randomized controlled clinical trial, in which 2 treatment strategies were compared (the early disease-modifying antirheumatic drug [DMARD] approach versus the pyramid approach), persist after 5 years.
In this study, 238 patients with recently diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were randomized to either the pyramid group (n = 56) or the early DMARD group (n = 182). Patients assigned to the pyramid group received nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs for at least 1 year after inclusion (the mean ± SD lag time until first prescription of a DMARD was 14 ± 9 months). Patients in the early DMARD group were treated with a DMARD immediately after inclusion.
After 5 years, data were available for 44 patients in the pyramid group (79%) and 145 patients in the early DMARD group (80%). No prolongation of the clinical advantages in favor of the early DMARD group, as observed after the first year, was demonstrated. Nevertheless, a significantly shorter delay time until complete response and a higher number of patients with overall clinically relevant improvement at several assessment points were observed in the early DMARD group compared with the pyramid group.
The clinical results in favor of the early DMARD group, as observed after the first year, were not as evident after 5 years. This indicates that a more aggressive treatment approach in early RA is required, and that treatment should be continued for a prolonged period of time, in order to maintain the advantages obtained in the first year.