Marije F. Bakker, PhD; Johannes W.G. Jacobs, PhD, MD; Paco M.J. Welsing, PhD; Suzanne M.M. Verstappen, PhD; Janneke Tekstra, PhD, MD; Evelien Ton, MD; Monique A.W. Geurts, MD; Jacobine H. van der Werf, MD; Grietje A. van Albada-Kuipers, MD; Zalima N. Jahangier-de Veen, PhD, MD; Maaike J. van der Veen, PhD, MD; Catharina M. Verhoef, PhD, MD; Floris P.J.G. Lafeber, PhD; Johannes W.J. Bijlsma, PhD, MD; on behalf of the Utrecht Rheumatoid Arthritis Cohort Study Group
* The Utrecht Rheumatoid Arthritis Cohort study group further consisted of A.A. Kruize, W.H. van der Laan, A.W.A.M. van Rijthoven, E.J. ter Borg, S.A. Vreugdenhil, C. van Booma-Frankfort, Y. Schenk, A.H.M. Heurkens, S.P. Linn-Rasker, J.C. Ehrlich, M.N. Nabibux, and A.A.M. Blaauw.
Acknowledgment: The authors thank all participating research nurses of the Utrecht Rheumatoid Arthritis Cohort study group for data collection; A.W.J.M. Jacobs-van Bree for data entry; S.M. Sijbers-Klaver for data management; and A.A. van Everdingen, MD, PhD, for scoring radiographs.
Grant Support: By the Catharijne Foundation (grant 20063).
Potential Conflicts of Interest: Disclosures can be viewed at www.acponline.org/authors/icmje/ConflictOfInterestForms.do?msNum=M11-0297.
Reproducible Research Statement:Study protocol and statistical code: Available from Dr. Jacobs (e-mail, mailto:email@example.com). Data set: Available after establishing an agreement on cooperation.
Requests for Single Reprints: Johannes W.G. Jacobs, MD, PhD, University Medical Center Utrecht, Department of Rheumatology and Immunology, F02.127, PO Box 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, the Netherlands; e-mail, mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current Author Addresses: Dr. Bakker: University Medical Center Utrecht, Division Julius Center, STR 06.131, PO Box 85500, 3508 CiA Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Drs. Jacobs, Welsing, Tekstra, Ton, Lafeber, and Bijlsma; University Medical Center Utrecht, Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, F02.127, PO Box 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Dr. Verstappen: Arthritis Research UK Epidemiology Unit, Manchester Academic Health Sciences Centre, Stopford Building, Oxford Road, Manchester Ml3 9PT, United Kingdom.
Dr. Geurts: St. Antonius Hospital, Department of Rheumatology, Posthus 2500, 3430 EM Nieuwegein, the Netherlands.
Dr. van der Werf: Diakonessenhuis, Department of Rheumatology. Postbus 80250, 3508 TG Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Dr. van Albada-Kuipers: Meander Medical Center, Department of Rheumatology, Postbus 1502, 3800 BM Amersfoort, the Netherlands.
Dr. Jahangier-de Veen: Tergooi Hospital, Department of Rheumatology, Postbus 10016, 1201 DA Hilversum, the Netherlands.
Dr. van der Veen: St. Jansdal Hospital, Department of Rheumatology, Postbus 138, 3840 AC Harderwijk, the Netherlands
Dr. Verhoef: FlevoHospital, Department of Rheumatology, Postbus 3005, 1300 EG Almere, the Netherlands.
Author Contributions: Conception and design: M.F. Bakker, J.W.G. Jacobs, P.M.J. Welsing, S.M.M. Verstappen, M.J. van der Veen, F.P.J.G. Lafeber, J.W.J. Bijlsma.
Analysis and interpretation of the data: M.F. Bakker, J.W.G. Jacobs, P.M.J. Welsing, E. Ton, F.P.J.G. Lafeber, J.W.J. Bijlsma.
Drafting of the article: M.F. Bakker, J.W.G. Jacobs, P.M.J. Welsing, E. Ton, F.P.J.G. Lafeber.
Critical revision of the article for important intellectual content: M.F. Bakker, J.W.G. Jacobs, S.M.M. Verstappen, E. Ton, J.H. van der Werf, G.A. van Albada-Kuipers, M.J. van der Veen, C.M. Verhoef, F.P.J.G. Lafeber, J.W.J. Bijlsma.
Final approval of the article: M.F. Bakker, J.W.G. Jacobs, P.M.J. Welsing, S.M.M. Verstappen, E. Ton, M.A.W. Geurts, J.H. van der Werf, G.A. van Albada-Kuipers, M.J. van der Veen, C.M. Verhoef, F.P.J.G. Lafeber, J.W.J. Bijlsma.
Provision of study materials or patients: M.F. Bakker, J.W.G. Jacobs, J. Tekstra, E. Ton, M.A.W. Geurts, J.H. van der Werf, G.A. van Albada-Kuipers, Z.N. Jahangier-de Veen, M.J. van der Veen, J.W.J. Bijlsma.
Statistical expertise: M.F. Bakker, J.W.G. Jacobs, P.M.J. Welsing.
Obtaining of funding: J.W.J. Bijlsma.
Administrative, technical, or logistic support: M.F. Bakker, J.W.G. Jacobs, S.M.M. Verstappen, E. Ton, Z.N. Jahangier-de Veen, F.P.J.G. Lafeber, J.W.J. Bijlsma.
Collection and assembly of data: M.F. Bakker, J.W.G. Jacobs, Z.N. Jahangier-de Veen, M.J. van der Veen, C.M. Verhoef, J.W.J. Bijlsma.
Bakker MF, Jacobs JW, Welsing PM, Verstappen SM, Tekstra J, Ton E, et al. Low-Dose Prednisone Inclusion in a Methotrexate-Based, Tight Control Strategy for Early Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2012;156:329-339. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-156-5-201203060-00004
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2012;156(5):329-339.
Treatment strategies for tight control of early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are highly effective but can be improved.
To investigate whether adding prednisone, 10 mg/d, at the start of a methotrexate (MTX)–based treatment strategy for tight control in early RA increases its effectiveness.
A 2-year, prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, multicenter trial (CAMERA-II [Computer Assisted Management in Early Rheumatoid Arthritis trial-II]). (International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Number: ISRCTN 70365169)
7 hospitals in the Netherlands.
236 patients with early RA (duration <1 year).
Patients were randomly assigned to an MTX-based, tight control strategy starting with either MTX and prednisone or MTX and placebo. Methotrexate treatment was tailored to the individual patient at monthly visits on the basis of predefined response criteria aiming for remission.
The primary outcome was radiographic erosive joint damage after 2 years. Secondary outcomes included response criteria, remission, and the need to add cyclosporine or a biologic agent to the treatment.
Erosive joint damage after 2 years was limited and less in the group receiving MTX and prednisone (n = 117) than in the group receiving MTX and placebo (n = 119). The MTX and prednisone strategy was also more effective in reducing disease activity and physical disability, achieving sustained remission, and avoiding the addition of cyclosporine or biologic treatment. Adverse events were similar in both groups, but some occurred less in the MTX and prednisone group.
A tight control strategy for RA implies monthly visits to an outpatient clinic, which is not always feasible.
Inclusion of low-dose prednisone in an MTX-based treatment strategy for tight control in early RA improves patient outcomes.
When methotrexate (MTX) is used as initial therapy for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), additional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) must frequently be added to achieve optimal outcomes.
Patients with RA were randomly assigned to receive MTX plus low-dose prednisone or MTX plus placebo. Response was measured frequently, and, if inadequate, another DMARD was added. Patients who received MTX plus prednisone had less erosive joint damage and were more likely to achieve remission and less likely to require additional DMARDS than those who began treatment with MTX plus placebo.
The trial was not powered to compare adverse effects, including infection.
Initial treatment for RA with low-dose prednisone plus MTX may result in improved outcomes.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) should ideally be treated as soon as possible after diagnosis, when it is believed to be most responsive to treatment, the “window of opportunity” (1–4). Both short- and long-term prognoses are better if remission (that is, the absence of symptoms and signs) is induced early in the disease course (5, 6). This can be achieved by using tight control treatment strategies tailored to the RA activity of an individual patient by dosage and medication adjustments (“tight control”) (7–9) and aimed to achieve a predefined level of low disease activity, preferably remission (“treat to target”) within a limited period (8).
Both step-down strategies (starting with combination treatment with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs [DMARDs], tapering down in case of clinical response) (6, 10) and step-up strategies (starting 1 DMARD and adding DMARDs in case of insufficient effect) have been shown to be effective (11). Step-down strategies use the window of opportunity optimally with quick symptom relief for patients but can result in overtreatment. In contrast, medication in step-up strategies can be tailored to the disease activity of the individual patient without overtreatment; however, the window of opportunity may be used less efficiently, and symptom relief may be slower than with step-down strategies (12).
Methotrexate (MTX) is known as an anchor drug, because it is the most common and effective conventional DMARD for RA. It is cheap, effective, relatively fast-acting, and well-tolerated. It slows joint damage and can be administered orally and subcutaneously in a relatively wide dosage range (2.5 to 30.0 mg/wk) (13–16).
The previous CAMERA (Computer Assisted Management in Early Rheumatoid Arthritis) study (17) applied MTX in a step-up tight control strategy and showed increased effectiveness compared with a usual care strategy with MTX. In the tight control group, 50% of participants experienced at least 1 period of remission compared with 37% in the usual care group. In an earlier randomized clinical trial by our group, prednisone, 10 mg/d, was shown to slow progression of radiographic joint damage in patients with early RA (18). This result and those of other studies helped to conclude that prednisone is a DMARD (19).
Glucocorticoids inhibit, among other inflammatory mechanisms, the cytokine-induced production of the receptor activator of nuclear factor-κB ligand, which activates osteoclasts (20). This is why prednisone particularly reduces bone erosion in inflamed joints (21).
However, previous studies showing a DMARD effect of glucocorticoids did not apply tight control DMARD strategies. We examined whether prednisone added at the start of an MTX-based, tight control DMARD strategy for early RA would still have additional disease-modifying properties, that is, inhibition of erosive joint damage, as a primary aim. As a secondary aim, we investigated whether the strategy with prednisone would be more effective clinically than the same strategy without prednisone.
From 2003 until 2008, patients with early RA who fulfilled the 1987 revised American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria (22) were eligible for this randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, prospective, multicenter, 2-year, tight control strategy trial, CAMERA-II. The medical research ethics committee of all involved hospitals approved the study. All consecutive patients who visited the outpatient clinic of 1 of the 7 rheumatology departments in the region of Utrecht, the Netherlands, collaborating in the Utrecht Rheumatoid Arthritis Cohort study group, were asked to participate, and patients gave written informed consent before entering the study.
Inclusion criteria were disease duration less than 1 year, age older than 18 years, and a DMARD- and glucocorticoid-naive status. Exclusion criteria were creatinine clearance by using the Cockcroft–Gault equation of less than 75 mL/min per 1.73 m2, aspartate and alanine aminotransferase levels greater than twice the upper limit of normal, active or recent hepatitis or cirrhosis, malignant tumors, inadequately controlled diabetes mellitus or arterial hypertension, serious infections, serious cardiac or respiratory diseases, leukopenia or thrombocytopenia, inadequate contraception, pregnancy, breastfeeding, osteoporosis, use of cytotoxic or immunosuppressive drugs for 3 months before inclusion, current or past substance abuse or alcohol use greater than 2 U/d, and psychological illnesses or intellectual disorders that would preclude adherence to the study protocol.
The pharmacy of the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMCU) randomly assigned participants to the tight control, MTX-based treatment strategy combined with either low-dose prednisone, 10 mg/d (MTX and prednisone group), or placebo (MTX and placebo group) in blocks of 4 patients stratified for each clinic. The pharmacy provided the placebo tablets, which were similar in appearance and taste to the prednisone tablets and stored at blinded local pharmacies of the participating hospitals.
The trial coordinator at UMCU performed the logistics. Everyone was blinded except the pharmacist at UMCU. Unblinding was done at the end of the study by the pharmacist at UMCU or in an earlier phase of the study in case of withdrawal due to severe adverse events or to surgery if glucocorticoid stress schemes would be indicated for patients receiving prednisone.
The tight control, MTX-based treatment strategy comprised an initial dosage of oral MTX, 10 mg/wk, with folic acid, 0.5 mg/d, except for the day of MTX intake. All patients received a bisphosphonate (alendronate or risedronate) and a calcium carbonate preparation with vitamin D (cholecalciferol). Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs was allowed, but intra-articular injections were avoided as much as possible and recorded when given.
At each monthly visit, the rheumatologist assessed and entered into a computer the swollen joint count; tender joint count; erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR); and visual analogue scale (VAS) for general well-being (0 to 100 mm; 100 mm = worst). The program calculated whether predefined criteria of response (>20% improvement compared with the previous visit in the swollen joint count and in ≥2 of the following factors: tender joint count, ESR, and VAS score) were met (17).
At each visit, if criteria of response were not met, the dose of MTX was increased by 5 mg/wk until remission (defined as a swollen joint count of 0, and at least 2 of the following factors: tender joint count ≤3, VAS score ≤20 mm, and ESR ≤20 mm/h) or the maximum dosage of MTX, 30 mg/wk, or the maximum tolerable MTX dosage was reached (17). If patients did not meet the predefined goal of remission 4 weeks after reaching the maximum tolerable dosage, MTX was administered subcutaneously and as a next step, cyclosporine was added, according to protocol (Appendix Figure) (17).
Appendix Figure. Study flow diagram showing treatment strategy steps and criteria.
The start of the treatment strategy (i.e., MTX, 10 mg/wk, in combination with prednisone, 10 mg/d, or placebo) and all possible subsequent steps of the described treatment strategy are shown. Each visit, if the patient had not improved >20% in swollen joint count and at least 2 of the following: tender joint count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and visual analogue scale for general well-being, compared with the previous visit (see the Methods section for details). The next step in the strategy was according to this diagram. MTX = methotrexate.
* Defined as (compared with the previous visit 4 wk ago) >20% improvement of number of swollen joints and of ≥2 out of 3 criteria: number of tender joints, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and visual analogue scale for general well-being. In case of no >20% improvement: stepwise increment in MTX dosage or add and step up of other medication, according to scheme; in case of >20% improvement at a visit, no change in dose of medication at that visit.
† For subcutaneous MTX, as well as oral MTX, each step was applied for ≥4 wk. The criteria for adding cyclosporine or adalimumab as a subsequent treatment strategy step and for stepping up of cyclosporine were the same as for each subcutaneous MTX step. Shortly after starting the trial (after about 20% of inclusions) a protocol amendment was made replacing cyclosporine by adalimumab as the next step, to be added to the maximum subcutaneous MTX dose. The adalimumab dose was increased to 40 mg/wk if the criteria of response were not met after 12 wk. In case of remission for at least 12 wk, the adalimumab dose was reduced to 40 mg every 2 wk and thereafter if persistent remission, the MTX was stepwise reduced.
Shortly after the trial was started (after approximately 20% of the participants had been included), the protocol was amended: adalimumab replaced cyclosporine as a next step, to be added to the maximum dosage of subcutaneous MTX. The starting dosage of adalimumab was 40 mg subcutaneously every 2 weeks; if the criteria of response were not met after 12 weeks, the dose was increased to 40 mg/wk. In case of sustained remission (defined as remission during at least 4 subsequent visits, or 12 weeks), if applicable, the adalimumab dosage was reduced to 40 mg every 2 weeks. Thereafter, the MTX dosage was reduced stepwise by 2.5 mg/wk each month as long as remission was present; if relapse occurred, the dosage of MTX was increased again in steps of 5 mg/wk (17).
If oral MTX was not tolerated, patients were switched to the same dosage of subcutaneous MTX and the protocol was followed as described earlier (that is, using the same maximum dosage and escalation scheme as for oral MTX). If oral MTX caused toxic adverse events (for example, leukocyte count ≤2.5 × 109 cells/L and thrombocyte count ≤100 × 109 cells/L), the subcutaneous MTX step was skipped and cyclosporine or adalimumab was added to the maximum tolerable dosage of oral MTX.
At baseline and subsequent monthly visits, investigators assessed the following disease activity variables: swollen joint count (range, 0 to 38 joints), tender joint count (range, 0 to 38 joints), VAS pain score (mean VAS pain score at night and in the morning, 0 to 100 mm, with 100 mm signifying the worst possible pain), VAS general well-being score (0 to 100 mm, with 100 mm signifying the worst score), ESR (range, 1 to 140 mm/h), C-reactive protein level (normal, <10 mg/L), and duration of morning stiffness (range, 0 to 180 min).
Investigators calculated the Disease Activity Score 28 (DAS28), which is an index for disease activity (range, 0 to 9.3, with 9.3 signifying the highest disease activity) based on the tender and swollen joint counts of 28 joints, the ESR, and the VAS score for general well-being (23). Every 3 months, they also assessed the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) score (Dutch version) (24), which measured physical disability (range, 0 to 3, with 3 signifying the highest level of disability).
At baseline, investigators recorded rheumatoid factor status as positive or negative. Screening studies at baseline included serum albumin levels, titers of hepatitis B surface antigen and anti–hepatitis C virus antibodies, serum and urine glucose levels, radiography of the chest and thoracic and lumbar spine, and bone densitometry (which was repeated annually). The hands and feet were radiographed at inclusion and annually thereafter.
The primary outcome was erosive radiographic joint damage at 2 years. Radiographs were scored by 2 readers in chronologic order at the end of the trial according to the Sharp–van der Heijde score (SHS) for erosions (range, 0 to 280), which was the primary outcome of the trial. In addition, the SHS for joint-space narrowing (JSN) (range, 0 to 168) was assessed; the sum of the erosion and JSN scores was the total SHS (range, 0 to 448) (25). In case of disagreement, consensus between the 2 observers determined the final scores. Both readers were blinded to patient characteristics and treatment strategy.
Secondary outcome measures were individual variables of disease activity over time, the number of patients satisfying the ACR and the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) response criteria at 1 and 2 years (Appendix Tables 1 and 2), number of patients in sustained remission as defined earlier (Appendix Figure) at any time during the trial, duration of remission, time until first remission, the number of patients who needed subcutaneous MTX or cyclosporine or adalimumab treatment, and the number of intra-articular injections during the trial.
A standard list of adverse events known to be related to prednisone (26) or MTX therapy was used to record adverse events at every visit, according to protocol. Other adverse events could also be recorded on this list. Severe adverse events were defined as any untoward medical occurrence that resulted in hospitalization or death.
The statistical software SPSS 17.0 (SPSS, Chicago, Illinois) and SAS, version 9.1 (SAS Institute, Cary, North Carolina), were used for analyses of data. A P value of less than 0.05 was considered to be statistically significant.
Sample size calculations were based on a previous study by our group (18), which showed mean erosive radiographic joint damage at 2 years of 16 (SD, 20) in the prednisone group versus 29 (SD, 30) in the placebo group. Assuming that intensive concomitant treatment with MTX in this study would reduce erosion at 2 years in both groups to 30% of the damage, as found in our previous study (18), the expected erosion score in the MTX and prednisone group would be 4.8 (SD, 6) versus 8.7 (SD, 10) in the MTX and placebo group. On the basis of these assumptions and to allow for withdrawals, more than 100 patients in each group would be adequate to reach significance (α < 0.05) by using a power of 0.80.
For the primary outcome (radiographic erosive joint damage) and all disease activity variables, 5 imputed data sets were generated (multiple imputations) by using a fully conditional specified model to handle missing values, which were considered to be missing at random. Imputations were based on baseline characteristics (that is, randomization, study center, age, and sex) and known predictors (that is, rheumatoid factor status, baseline DAS28 and radiographic joint damage, and use of subsequent strategy treatments).
Pooled estimates from these 5 imputed data sets were reported in the results. All analyses were performed on the imputed data, and only secondary analyses were performed on the observed data. For the categorical secondary outcomes (ACR and EULAR response criteria, number of patients in sustained remission, and number of patients who needed subcutaneous MTX or cyclosporine or adalimumab treatment or intra-articular injections), patients who withdrew were considered nonresponders. Appendix Tables 1 and 2 define nonresponders for the ACR and EULAR response criteria.
Testing for significance of differences in erosion scores between the 2 groups at 2 years was done by using the Mann–Whitney U test and was based on a longitudinal regression analysis (linear mixed model), which was performed by using treatment strategy, time, and the interaction term of time and treatment as independent variables and the erosion score as a dependent variable; baseline erosion score, rheumatoid factor status, and study center were covariates. Erosion scores were not normally distributed; however, after correction for baseline erosion score and other covariates in the model, the residual variance of the model was nearly normally distributed and symmetrical, indicating that the results of the analysis were valid. In addition, differences in the JSN score and total SHS between the 2 groups at 2 years were tested by using Mann–Whitney U tests.
For the secondary outcomes regarding disease activity variables, longitudinal regression analyses (linear mixed model) were performed by using treatment strategy, time, and the interaction term of time and treatment as independent variables and the disease activity variable as the dependent variable; the baseline disease activity variable, rheumatoid factor status, and study center were covariates. In addition, testing of differences between the 2 groups in means at specific points in time was based on the longitudinal data analysis for the DAS28 and on independent t tests for other secondary outcomes. Differences in categorical outcomes (that is, ACR and EULAR response criteria, number of patients in sustained remission, number of patients who needed subcutaneous MTX or cyclosporine or adalimumab treatment, and number of intra-articular injections) were tested by using chi-square and Fisher exact tests; the difference in duration and time until sustained remission between the 2 groups was tested by using log-rank tests.
Differences in adverse events between the treatment groups in mean values of continuous adverse effects data (that is, nonfasting serum glucose levels and weight gain during the trial) were tested by using independent t tests and differences in categorical data with chi-square and Fisher exact tests (for example, the number of adverse events and the number of patients with an increase in glucose levels >1.0 mmol/L [>18 mg/dL] compared with baseline). The occurrence of adverse events and severe adverse events was investigated on the patient level between both treatment groups; each patient could have more than 1 adverse event. Sensitivity analyses were performed for the primary outcome regarding missing data and dropouts. The missing data (including dropouts) for erosive joint damage after 2 years of treatment were imputed with the 80th percentile of erosive damage of the respective treatment strategy to investigate the effects on statistical results if missing data would have been more frequently present in patients with worse results.
The Catharijne Foundation funding organization was not involved in study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, writing of this report, or the decision to submit the manuscript for publication. The corresponding author had full access to trial data and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.
Table 1 shows the baseline characteristics of the 2 groups (total of 236 patients). During the study, 32 patients in the MTX and prednisone group and 34 patients in the MTX and placebo group withdrew (Figure 1); 85 patients in each treatment group completed the 2-year trial. The median follow-up for the MTX and prednisone group was 25.2 months (interquartile range [IQR], 23.9 to 26.7 months) versus 25.5 months (IQR, 24.4 to 26.5 months) for the MTX and placebo group (P = 0.68).
Figure 1. Study flow diagram.
MTX = methotrexate.
* Not all patients gave a reason; approximately 80% did not participate because of glucocorticoid use, and 20% found monthly visits too time-consuming.
† One of these patients had been randomly assigned to receive prednisone, and 2 had been randomly assigned to receive placebo.
Erosive joint damage after 2 years was limited and significantly less in the MTX and prednisone group (median, 0 [IQR, 0 to 0]) than in the MTX and placebo group (median, 0 [IQR, 0 to 2]) (P = 0.022); the difference between median erosive joint damage was 0.0 (95% CI, −0.1 to 0.0). The cumulative probability plot on erosion scores at 2 years (Figure 2) shows that 78% of all patients in the MTX and prednisone group versus 67% in the MTX and placebo group were still erosion-free; of those who did have erosion, erosion scores were higher in the MTX and placebo group. On the basis of the linear mixed-model analysis, erosion score at 2 years was on average 0.87 SHS units lower in the MTX and prednisone group than in the MTX and placebo group (regression coefficient, −0.87 [CI, −1.31 to −0.43]; P = 0.001). Sensitivity analyses for the primary outcome (erosive joint damage after 2 years of treatment) for missing data (16% of total) and withdrawals showed no differences in the statistical significance of results (data not shown).
Figure 2. Individual patients' erosion scores.
Totals of 112 and 110 patients were analyzed for the MTX and prednisone group and the MTX and placebo group, respectively. Arrows with percentages show the proportion of patients within each treatment strategy with no erosions at 2 y. MTX = methotrexate.
We also examined other radiographic scores. The JSN score and total SHS at 2 years were not different. The median JSN score at 2 years was 0 (IQR, 0 to 2) in the MTX and prednisone group and 0 (IQR, 0 to 2) in the MTX and placebo group (P = 0.70); these values were 0 (IQR, 0 to 3) and 0 (IQR, 0 to 4) respectively, for the total SHS (P = 0.32). The differences between the median values were 0.0 (CI, 0.0 to 0.0) and 0.0 (CI, −1.1 to 1.1), respectively.
Analyses performed on observed data for the primary outcome, JSN and total SHS, showed similar results (data not shown).
Disease activity variables after 2 years of treatment improved more, on average, in the MTX and prednisone group than in the MTX and placebo group. Figure 3 shows the course of the variables DAS28, ESR, VAS pain score, and HAQ score during the trial. Improvement was more rapid in the MTX and prednisone group, but the differences observed in the first months decreased over time (Appendix Table 3). When analyzed over time by using longitudinal regression analyses, patients in the MTX and prednisone group had lower disease activity for all disease activity variables than did patients in the MTX and placebo group (P < 0.001 for all) (Figure 3). According to the regression analysis for the DAS28 at 3 months, the mean difference was −1.56 (CI, −1.88 to −1.25). This value was −0.89 (CI, −0.52 to −0.11) at 6 months, 0.21 (CI, −0.52 to 0.11) at 1 year, and −0.26 (CI, −0.68 to 0.16) at 2 years.
Figure 3. Course of disease activity variables during 2 years of treatment, based on pooled results of imputed analyses.
DAS28 = Disease Activity Score assessing 28 joints (range, 0 to 9.3 [highest disease activity]); ESR = erythrocyte sedimentation rate (range, 1 to 140 mm/h); HAQ = Health Assessment Questionnaire (range, 0 to 3 [most physical disability]); MTX = methotrexate; VAS = visual analogue scale (range, 0 to 100 mm [worst status]).
* Significant differences between both treatment strategies at 3 mo, 6 mo, 1 y, 18 mo, or 2 y of treatment.
† P values are based on differences between both treatment strategies evaluated with longitudinal regression analyses.
The response rates after 1 year of treatment for the MTX and prednisone group and the MTX and placebo group for the ACR20 response criteria, that is, the percentages of patients with at least 20% improvement, were 70% versus 66% (P = 0.45); they were 56% versus 43% (P = 0.037) for the ACR50 criteria (at least 50% improvement) and 27% versus 26% (P = 0.82) for the ACR70 criteria (at least 70% improvement). Similar differences were seen after 2 years: These response rates were 65% versus 61% (P = 0.56) for the ACR20, 53% versus 42% (P = 0.091) for the ACR 50, and 38% versus 19% (P = 0.002) for the ACR70. The EULAR response criteria showed no significant differences between the 2 treatment groups (Appendix Table 3).
Remission lasted an average of 10 months (SD, 6) in the patients in both groups who reached remission. However, time until the first sustained remission was shorter in the MTX and prednisone group (6 months [SD, 5]) than in the MTX and placebo group (11 months [SD, 5]; P < 0.001). A somewhat higher number of patients had at least 1 sustained remission in the MTX and prednisone group (n = 84 [72%]) than in the MTX and placebo group (n = 73 [61%]) (P = 0.089).
In the MTX and prednisone group, 26 patients (22%) needed the subcutaneous MTX treatment compared with 60 patients (50%) in the MTX and placebo group (P < 0.001). The mean of maximum dosages of MTX (oral or subcutaneous) in individual patients during the trial was 19.7 mg/wk (SD, 6.1) and for the MTX and prednisone group 23.4 mg/wk (SD, 4.5) for the MTX and placebo group (P < 0.001).
Eighteen patients (15%) in the MTX and prednisone group versus 49 patients (41%) (P < 0.001) in the MTX and placebo group also needed a subsequent treatment after the last MTX step; 2 versus 7 of the patients used cyclosporine (before the protocol amendment) added to MTX and 16 versus 42 used adalimumab. The mean period between the start of the study and the start of this treatment was 14 months (SD, 6) for the MTX and prednisone group versus 12 months (SD, 6) for the MTX and placebo group (P = 0.18).
Cyclosporine was used in the MTX and prednisone group an average of 12 months (SD, 7) versus 9 months (SD, 9) in the MTX and placebo group; adalimumab was used in the MTX and prednisone group an average of 13 months (SD, 6) versus 12 months (SD, 6) in the MTX and placebo group. The proportion of patients who received 1 or more intra-articular injections during the study was 25% in the MTX and prednisone group and 36% in the MTX and placebo group (P = 0.066). Analyses of observed data yielded similar results (data not shown).
Sixteen patients (14%) in the MTX and prednisone group and 20 patients (17%) in the MTX and placebo group withdrew from the study because of adverse events; 1 patient in the MTX and prednisone group withdrew because of surgery, and 1 patient in the MTX and prednisone group died of causes unrelated to the medication (Table 2). Adverse events resulting in withdrawal were vertebral fracture, cough, headache, dizziness, loss of clearheadedness, liver function disorders, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, weight gain, hypertension, hair loss, dry eyes, and blurred vision for the MTX and prednisone group and pericarditis, ketoacidosis, pneumonia, persistent respiratory infection, (severe) headache, a blocked shunt in the brain, loss of clearheadedness, nausea, tiredness, liver function disorders, diarrhea, stomachache, glaucoma, and mouth ulcers for the MTX and placebo group.
Patients who withdrew may have had more than 1 adverse event, and several of the adverse events listed above may have occurred in more than 1 patient. There were no clinically important differences in number and type of adverse events leading to withdrawal between the first and second year of the trial.
At least 1 adverse event was recorded in 86 patients (74%) in the MTX and prednisone group versus 94 patients (79%) in the MTX and placebo group. Table 2 shows the nature and percentage of adverse events in both groups. Adverse events occurred most often in the central nervous (for example, headache and dizziness), gastrointestinal, and mucocutaneous systems.
Analyzing the number of patients experiencing a sole adverse event at least once during the study showed that patients in the MTX and prednisone group less often had nausea (P = 0.006) and alanine and aspartate aminotransferase levels above the upper limit of normal (P = 0.006 and 0.016, respectively) than did patients in the MTX and placebo group. There were no differences between the groups in numbers of patients having other adverse events (Table 2).
Nonfasting serum glucose levels after 2 years were on average 5.7 mmol/L (SD, 1.4) in the MTX and prednisone group and 5.6 mmol/L (SD, 1.5) in the MTX and placebo group (P = 0.55). Thirteen patients (11%) in the MTX and prednisone group had higher (>1.0 mmol/L [>18 mg/dL]) glucose levels at 2 years compared with baseline values versus 9 patients (8%) in the MTX and placebo group. In both groups, 1 patient developed diabetes (Table 2). On average, patients in the MTX and prednisone group gained 2.9 kg (SD, 4.2) in weight during the 2 years compared with baseline versus 1.3 kg (SD, 5.3) for the MTX and placebo group (P = 0.028).
Inclusion of prednisone, 10 mg/d, from the start of an MTX-based, tight control strategy slows erosive joint damage and further enhances clinical efficacy. Patients attained sustained remission at an earlier time point during treatment than did patients who did not receive prednisone. In addition, the need for additional treatment (that is, subcutaneous MTX and, subsequently, cyclosporine or adalimumab) in the MTX and prednisone group was significantly less than that in the MTX and placebo group. It is notable that only 18 patients in the MTX and prednisone group needed cyclosporine or adalimumab compared with 49 patients in the MTX and placebo group.
In line with earlier observations (19), prednisone decreased the radiographic erosion score but not the JSN and the total SHS scores. The direct and indirect effects of glucocorticoids on osteoclastogenesis and bone resorption could account for this discrepancy (27). Significant differences in erosion scores between the groups could be seen only after 2 years. An explanation is that radiographic progression may have slowed in both groups because they both used a tight control therapeutic strategy, aimed at remission.
In RA, even small changes in erosion scores over the first years are considered relevant. These scores do not regress; are cumulative over time; and are associated with functional disability and clinical symptoms, such as pain. Structural joint damage could theoretically fuel joint inflammation; this would explain the window-of-opportunity concept, that is, a better long-term outcome of the disease, if joint damage is prevented in a very early stage by intensive therapy.
The aim of remission in both groups with very intensive treatment caused bunching up of the results of various variables in the low range of the scales. Striving for remission in both groups also explains why the difference in scores of disease activity variables between the 2 groups gradually decreased in time. The finding that the EULAR response criteria showed no statistically significant differences compared with the ACR criteria may be explained by the design of the study, in which medication steps (intensifying treatment and, in case of remission, tapering down treatment) were dictated by a composite of the same variables that form the EULAR response criteria.
For the difference in improvement in clinical variables and acute-phase response between both strategies in favor of the MTX and prednisone strategy, one could argue that prednisone has nonspecific positive effects. However, similar improvements in swollen joint counts assessed by the rheumatologist, physical functioning (for example, the HAQ score), and less erosive joint damage refute a nonspecific effect.
The results from the present study support implementation of a tight control, rapid step-up strategy with MTX plus low to moderate doses of prednisone during the first 2 years of the disease. In this respect, our data corroborate the recently published EULAR guidelines on treatment of RA (4). Although a large proportion of patients in the MTX and placebo group also did not need biologic therapy during the first 2 years of their disease, patients in the MTX and placebo strategy had a slower clinical response and less favorable outcome on all variables than those in the MTX and prednisone group, including physical functioning and quality of life. This, along with the finding that the MTX and prednisone strategy was not associated with more adverse effects, suggests that treating patients with glucocorticoids during the first 2 years of the disease is a better option; thereafter, prednisone therapy should be tapered and stopped, if possible.
This suggestion would be different if prednisone therapy would have to be continued for several years or if we could reliably predict which individual patients would not develop joint damage and would fare well with MTX alone; however, this prediction has been extensively investigated and until now has failed. Furthermore, adding prednisone if MTX does not adequately control the disease would not optimally make use of the window of opportunity—the period very early in the disease course during which RA is believed to be most responsive to treatment—and the effects of this strategy are not known.
We found a reduced need for additional treatments, notably biologic agents, during the first 2 years of RA in the MTX and prednisone group, which could, along with better current (and possibly future) physical functioning and quality of life, affect cost-effectiveness (28–30). A recently published EULAR paper on the economic aspects of treatment options in RA supports the concept of an early start of traditional DMARDs and rapid treatment escalation if response is insufficient rather than starting with biologic agents (30). A recent meta-analysis suggested that combination treatment with conventional DMARDs and glucocorticoids might be as effective in reducing joint destruction as the more expensive combination of biologic agents with MTX (31).
On the basis of these data, a cost-effectiveness trial comparing a tight control strategy of MTX and prednisone with a strategy directly starting with a biologic agent seems justified. Results of this study would be of special interest to clinicians in developing countries, where biologic agents are less available.
The 10-mg/d dosage of prednisone can be considered low to moderate and is associated with low risks for adverse events in patients with RA (32). It is surprising that, although our study was not powered to analyze differences between groups regarding specific adverse events, elevated serum aminotransferase levels and nausea occurred significantly less frequently in the MTX and prednisone group. An explanation could be that the average maximum dosage of MTX in the group was lower.
In addition, because of higher disease activity, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in the MTX and placebo group might have been used more intensively than in the MTX and prednisone group, similar to our findings in another study (33). However, we did not systematically record nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use in this study, so the latter is a hypothesis. The difference in weight gain between the groups can be attributed to prednisone, but may also partly result from earlier and better control of disease activity over time (34); however, this also is a hypothesis.
No study has evaluated the additional joint-protective effect of continuing glucocorticoids 2 years after a diagnosis of RA (19). Thus, it would make sense to taper and stop glucocorticoid therapy after this period, if possible, especially because some adverse events (such as osteoporosis) are associated with long-term use of glucocorticoids.
In conclusion, including low-dose prednisone from the start of a tight control, MTX-based treatment strategy for early RA for 2 years after the diagnosis decreases progression of erosive joint damage, disease activity, physical disability, the need for (early) treatment with cyclosporine or biologic agents, and toxicity.
Figure. No caption available.
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PrasantaPadhan, Consultant in Rheumatology
March 7, 2012
Prednisolone in early RA : Its role in developing nations
Dear Editor, The study by Bakker et al reemphasizes the role of steroids in early RA(1).It will help in developing nations like India to achieve early disease control at a lower cost.However since tuberculosis,both active and latent being rampant in this region of the world,it may be essential to rule out tuberculosis prior to starting prednisolone in patients with early RA.If PPD test is positive then INH prophylaxis may be indicated to prevent reactivation.
1.Bakker MF et al.Low-Dose Prednisone Inclusion in a Methotrexate-Based, Tight Control Strategy for Early Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Randomized Trial.Ann Intern Med 2012 156:329-339.
Athanase D.Protogerou, MD, PhD, Evangelia Zampeli, Peter P. Sfikakis
First Department of Propaedeutic and Internal Medicine, Laikon Hospital, Athens University Medical S
March 9, 2012
Low-dose prednisone in rheumatoid arthritis: good for the joints, but what about arteries?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is associated with increased mortality, and the majority of premature deaths are attributable to cardiovascular (CV) disease (1). Both chronic active inflammation, as a result of inadequate disease control, and the increased burden of traditional CV risk factors in these patients contribute to acceleration of atherosclerosis (1, 2, 3). Bakker et al. (4) clearly showed the beneficial effect of a low to moderate dose of prednisone (10 mg/day) on RA tight control when incorporated in the treatment during the first 2 years after disease onset. Their patients' age at baseline was about 53 years and none had serious cardiac disease or inadequately controlled hypertension and diabetes mellitus. Apart for one death due to coronary syndrome in one of 85 patients who completed the study receiving additional prednisone, no serious cardiovascular adverse effects were noted. One could assume that the beneficial effect of prednisone is translated in deceleration of atherosclerosis since inflammatory activity is better controlled. Evidence from retrospective studies suggests differently; the high cumulative dose of prednisone is associated with the later development of acute coronary syndromes in RA (5). As also shown in the first two longitudinal studies, an average cumulative daily dose <2.5 mg at baseline (2), or 2.5-10 mg daily prednisolone (3) were independently associated with the progression of subclinical carotid atherosclerosis over 3 years (intima-media thickening or new plaque formation). Of note, these carotid markers are independent predictors of CV mortality in RA patients (5), implying a significant role of even low dose corticosteroids contributing to the enhanced CV risk in RA. We believe that we all share a common "fear" that needs to be addressed in future studies. The positive outcome of RA patients treated with corticosteroids is difficult to be established. These drugs confidently help in clinical disease control but not on progression of atherosclerosis because they may modulate lipid profile, glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, blood pressure and obesity (1). Therefore, when deciding to chronically use even low to moderate dose corticosteroids in RA patients, it is important to take into account the concomitant traditional CV risk factors. Specifically designed studies are needed in order to establish "safety" criteria for the application of corticosteroid-including treatment strategies. "Bridging therapy" or "the lowest dose for the shortest period possible" might be at the moment the most prudent treatment strategy (1).
1. Peters MJ, Symmons DP, McCarey D, Dijkmans BA, Nicola P, Kvien TK, et al. EULAR evidence-based recommendations for cardiovascular risk management in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of inflammatory arthritis. Ann Rheum Dis. 2010; 69:325-31.
2. Giles JT, Post WS, Blumenthal RS, Polak J, Petri M, Gelber AC, Szklo M, Bathon JM. Longitudinal predictors of progression of carotid atherosclerosis in rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2011;11:3216-25.
3. Zampeli E, Protogerou A, Stamatelopoulos K, Fragiadaki K, Katsiari CG, Kyrkou K, et al. Predictors of new atherosclerotic carotid plaque development in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a longitudinal study. Arthritis Res Ther. 2012;14:R44. [Epub ahead of print]
4. Bakker MF, Jacobs JW, Welsing PM, Verstappen SM, Tekstra J, Ton E, et al; on behalf of the Utrecht Rheumatoid Arthritis Cohort Study Group. Low-Dose Prednisone inclusion in a Methotrexate-Based, Tight Control Strategy for Early Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2012;156:329-39.
5. Evans MR, Escalante A, Battafarano DF, Freeman GL, O'Leary DH, del Rinc?n I. Carotid atherosclerosis predicts incident acute coronary syndromes in rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2011;63:1211-20.
Alfonse TMasi, Physician, NA
University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria
March 23, 2012
One dose of prednisone may not be best for all rheumatoid arthritis patients?
A brief perspective is offered on the article by Bakker et al., "Low- dose prednisone inclusion in a methotrexate-based, tight control strategy for early rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized trial" (1). The report (1) continues a tradition of "elegantly-designed and well-executed Utrecht studies", as commented a decade ago (2), on the predecessor study (3). Starting at initiation of a methotrexate (MTX) tight control strategy, 10 mg/d prednisone clearly had greater efficacy than placebo in reducing disease activity and physical disability in early rheumatoid arthritis (RA), over a 2-years interval (1). As recognized by the Utrecht authors (1) and earlier RA investigators (2, 4), 10 mg/d prednisone might not be described as low-dose, particularly over a 2-year duration.
Almost 30 years ago, a personal editorial (4) had cited and synthesized an almost forgotten review of extensive clinical trial (RCT) data on RA patients which demonstrated that those treated with 10 mg or more prednisolone (mean 11 mg) daily for 4 years had half the number of new erosions (mean 8.5), than those assigned to salicylates only (mean 17.3). Salicylates and glucocorticoids (GCs) were the mainstay therapies in that era (4), before the use of disease modifying anti-inflammatory drugs (DMARDs). In the years following, many RCTs were performed using varied doses of predniso(lo)ne (P) at low (5 mg P/d) to medium levels in RA patients on a diversity of DMARD protocols, as recently reviewed (5). After one or two years duration of prednisone therapy, clinical, functional, and radiographic outcomes were generally improved over the placebo group outcomes (4, S121 - S125).
Of scientific concern, however, clinical research has not yet provided a basis to reliably predict optimal GC therapy in an individual patient having a particular severity of RA (2, 4). In rheumatologic practice, clinical judgment strives to balance expected benefits against adverse effects of GCs in a particular patient's course of disease. Given the 10 mg/d prednisone protocol in the current study (1), future post-hoc analyses hold promise to identify host and disease variables which influence optimal benefits versus adverse consequences in the combined MTX tight control therapy of early RA.
These comments are not intended to detract from the excellent design of the Utrecht report (1). Nonetheless, Annals readers might want to be aware that prednisone doses less than 10 mg/d might enhance efficacy of methotrexate-based tight control strategy with lower likelihood of adverse effects, at least in subsets of early-diagnosed RA patients.
Alfonse T. Masi, MD, DR. P.H. Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology Department of Medicine University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria, IL 61656, USA Email: email@example.com
(1) Bakker MF, Jacobs JW, Welsing PM, Verstappen SM, Tekstra J, Ton E et al. Low-dose prednisone inclusion in a methotrexate-based, tight control strategy for early rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 2012; 156:329-39.
(2) Pincus T, Sokka T, Stein CM. Are long-term very low doses of prednisone for patients with rheumatoid arthritis as helpful as high doses are harmful? Ann Intern Med 2002; 136:76-8.
(3) van Everdingen AA, Jacobs JW, Siewertsz van Reesema DR, Bijlsma JW. Low-dose prednisone therapy for patients with early active rheumatoid arthritis: clinical efficacy, disease-modifying properties, and side effects: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Ann Intern Med 2002; 136:1-12.
(4) Masi AT. Low dose glucocorticoid therapy in rheumatoid arthritis (RA): transitional or selected add-on therapy? J Rheumatol 1983; 10:675-8.
(5) Bijlsma JWJ, Braun J, Buttgereit F, Cutolo M, Pincus T. Low- dose glucocorticoids in rheumatic diseases. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2011;29(Suppl. 68): S1-S152.
TheodorePincus, Director of Outcomes Research, Isabel Castrejon, Yusuf Yazici
NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases
March 26, 2012
3-5mg prednisone may be preferable to 10mg/day in most patients with rheumatoid arthritis
The report of Bakker et al  presents impressive control of disease activity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, which ironically may have attenuated the apparent treatment effect of prednisone. Overall, 67% of patients who received no prednisone experienced no erosions, only 11% less than the 78% treated with 10mg/ a day prednisone for 2 years, albeit a statistically significant difference. The strongest treatment effects, maintained over 2 years, involved patient functional status, which generally is more significant than laboratory and radiographic data to predict work disability and mortality in rheumatoid arthritis.
While unequivocal advantages are documented for 10 mg/day prednisone added to tight control with methotrexate (and adalimumab if indicated by DAS28), 10 mg/day prednisone may not necessarily be "low-dose," as noted in the report . No statistically significant differences in adverse events were seen over 2-years . However, over long periods, 10mg/day prednisone is associated with increased osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, infection, adrenal suppression, and higher mortality rates, even when discontinued after 2 years .
Randomized trials reported after initiation of CAMERAII have documented clinical and radiographic efficacy of 5 mg/day prednisone  and clinical efficacy of 3 mg/day . Clinical effectiveness of long- term 3 mg/day prednisone was found in more than 90% of patients treated after 1990, when almost all patients received concomitant methotrexate. Patients could titrate their dose and discontinue prednisone, but most chose to continue doses of 1-4 mg/day over long periods, despite bruising and skin-thinning in some patients. Hypertension, diabetes and cataracts were not increased over expected numbers , consistent with CAMERAII and population-based evidence comparing moderate (7.5mg/day) to high doses . Doses of <5 mg/day prednisone do not result in suppression of the hypothalamic-adrenal-pituitary axis .
These comments in no way detract from the excellently-executed Utrecht study. Nonetheless, readers of the Annals might be made aware that, while not documented as elegantly, initial and long-term prednisone 3-5 mg/day might also enhance methotrexate therapy clinically and structurally, with considerably lower likelihood of adverse effects. Furthermore, while costs are higher, biological agents may be safer than 10mg/day prednisone over long periods (as <5 mg/day prednisone may be safer than non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs). As noted a decade ago, "long-term very low doses of prednisone for patients with rheumatoid arthritis may be as helpful as high doses are harmful", and 10mg/day may not be "low-dose" or needed for most patients.
1. Bakker MF, Jacobs JW, Welsing PM, Verstappen SM, Tekstra J, Ton E, et al. Low-Dose Prednisone Inclusion in a Methotrexate-Based, Tight Control Strategy for Early Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Mar 6; 156(5):329-339.
2. Bijlsma JW, Braun J, Buttgereit F, Cutolo M, Pincus, T. Low-dose glucocorticoids in rheumatic diseases. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2011 Sep-Oct; 29(5 Suppl 68).
3. Wassenberg S, Rau R, Steinfeld P, Zeidler H. Very low-dose prednisolone in early rheumatoid arthritis retards radiographic progression over two years: a multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Arthritis Rheum. 2005 Nov; 52(11):3371-3380.
4. Wei L, MacDonald TM, Walker BR. Taking glucocorticoids by prescription is associated with subsequent cardiovascular disease. Ann Intern Med. 2004 Nov 16; 141(10):764-770.
5. Pincus T, Sokka T, Stein CM. Are long-term very low doses of prednisone for patients with rheumatoid arthritis as helpful as high doses are harmful? Ann Intern Med. 2002 Jan 1; 136(1):76-78.
Marije F.Bakker, PhD, Johannes W.G. Jacobs, PhD, MD, Johannes W.J. Bijlsma, PhD, MD
Utrecht Rheumatoid Arthritis Cohort Study Group
May 24, 2012
We appreciate the interest in our Computer Assisted Management in Early Rheumatoid Arthritis trial-II (CAMERA-II). Based on the results of our previous CAMERA study, we anticipated good disease control,1 which leaves less room for a specific glucocorticoid treatment effect. Therefore, we chose a daily dose of prednisone which indeed can be described as low-to medium. Lower doses which have been proved effective in not-tightly controlled or observational studies are not necessarily also effective in a tight control study. Up to date, CAMERA-II is the only tight control study with systematic evaluation of the effect of additional glucocorticoid therapy. Data indicating an association between glucocorticoids and cardiovascular adverse effects are derived from observational studies, which tend to overestimate adverse effects. First, in these studies there is bias by indication, i.e. patients with more severe disease are more frequently prescribed glucocorticoids. In these patients the risk of adverse effects is higher based on their higher disease activity and their often more frequent comorbidities. It is very hard in observational studies to statistically correct for possible bias by indication. Second, not all negative events are adverse effects of glucocorticoids; they could be complications of the disease itself, and several negative effects on lipids, endothelium, bone mass, glucose metabolism and infection risk are associated both with the disease treated and with glucocorticoids, especially at medium and high doses.2-5 The use of glucocorticoid in lower doses inhibiting the inflammatory process might counteract these negative effects of the disease. Effects on joint damage of glucocorticoid use beyond the first 2 years of RA have not been investigated. We do not advocate long-term glucocorticoid use; a low to medium dose for the first 2 years results in a cumulative dose very well below that found to be predictive of cardiovascular adverse effects in the study of Evans et al.
Only in a large controlled trial randomizing RA-patients on disease modifying drugs for glucocorticoid therapy or placebo with predefined standardized assessments of adverse effects, the real risk of adverse effects of glucocorticoids can be estimated reliably. Although we agree that now the time has come to investigate whether lower doses of glucocorticoids or shorter duration of glucocorticoid treatment than we used in CAMERA-II would also be beneficial in a tight control strategy, we would not advocate the lowest dose for the shortest period possible, if the treatment goal goes beyond a short-term symptomatic effect only.
Utrecht; JWG Jacobs, MF Bakker, JWJ Bijlsma
1. Verstappen SM, Jacobs JW, van der Veen MJ, Heurkens AH, Schenk Y, ter Borg EJ, et al. Intensive treatment with methotrexate in early rheumatoid arthritis: aiming for remission. Computer Assisted Management in Early Rheumatoid Arthritis (CAMERA, an open-label strategy trial). Ann Rheum Dis 2007; 66:1443-9.
2. Au K, Reed G, Curtis JR, Kremer JM, Greenberg JD, Strand V, et al. Extended report: high disease activity is associated with an increased risk of infection in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Rheum Dis 2011; 70:785-91.
3. Wasko MC, Kay J, Hsia EC, Rahman MU. Diabetes mellitus and insulin resistance in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: risk reduction in a chronic inflammatory disease. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken ) 2011; 63:512- 21.
4. Klarenbeek NB, van der Kooij SM, Huizinga TJ, Goekoop-Ruiterman YP, Hulsmans HM, van Krugten MV, et al. Blood pressure changes in patients with recent-onset rheumatoid arthritis treated with four different treatment strategies: a post hoc analysis from the BeSt trial. Ann Rheum Dis 2010; 69:1342-5.
5. Peters MJ, Vis M, van Halm VP, Wolbink GJ, Voskuyl AE, Lems WF, et al. Changes in lipid profile during infliximab and corticosteroid treatment in rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Rheum Dis 2007; 66:958-61.
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