Initial disease modifying antirheumatic drugs and prednisolone prescriptions for patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a 15-year study

M Osiri, S Akkasilpa, U Deesomchok
Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand 2000, 83 (3): 217-24

OBJECTIVE: To compare patterns and time trends of initial disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and prednisolone prescriptions for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by the rheumatologists at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand over a 15-year period, as well as their side effects.

METHOD: Medical records of all patients with RA seen at the Rheumatology Clinic from January 1983 to June 1997 with a duration of follow-up of 6 months or more were reviewed. Information on the disease, initial DMARDs prescriptions and their side effects, prednisolone use, dosage and side effect(s) were focused and compared among three 5-year periods (1983-1987, 1988-1992 and 1993-1997).

RESULTS: 236 patients were included in this study. There were 44, 82 and 110 patients in the first, second and third period, respectively. Methotrexate (MTX) was the most frequently prescribed DMARD in all time periods. Dapsone and intramuscular (i.m.) gold were prescribed in the first period while antimalarial drugs and sulfasalazine (SSZ) were increasingly used in the second and third periods. Combination treatment of DMARDs was first used in the third period. Side effects from MTX were observed in patients with a longer duration of treatment (p < 0.05). Patients prescribed combined DMARDs did not develop more side effects compared with those who had monotherapy. Prednisolone was prescribed in 57.2 per cent of the patients, most being newly prescribed at the clinic. Mean starting dose of prednisolone was 8.9 mg per day. 64 patients took prednisolone together with non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Gastrointestinal side effects did not increase in these patients.

CONCLUSION: MTX was the most frequently prescribed DMARDs regardless of the time period. Antimalarial drugs, SSZ and combination of DMARDs (most were MTX + chloroquine) have been prescribed more in the last 5 years, while dapsone, auranofin and i.m. gold were rarely used as initial DMARDs. Low dose prednisolone was prescribed in more than half of the patients with RA. Side effects from DMARDs and prednisolone found in this study were comparable to previous reports.

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