Longterm combination therapy of refractory and destructive rheumatoid arthritis with methotrexate (MTX) and intramuscular gold or other disease modifying antirheumatic drugs compared to MTX monotherapy

R Rau, B Schleusser, G Herborn, T Karger
Journal of Rheumatology 1998, 25 (8): 1485-92

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate tolerability and efficacy of combination therapy with methotrexate (MTX)/parenteral gold or MTX/other disease modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD, d-penicillamine or chloroquine) in comparison with MTX monotherapy in patients with longstanding destructive active rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

METHODS: In an open prospective trial all consecutive MTX-naive patients with active RA starting MTX treatment alone or in combination between January 1980 and December 1987, after failing one or more DMARD, were followed at regular intervals up to 108 months. Evaluations included the number of swollen joints (0-32), grip strength, patient assessment of pain and mobility, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP), and hemoglobin. Group 1, treated with MTX monotherapy (n = 97), was compared with Group 2, with combination therapy MTX/parenteral gold (n = 126) and Group 3 with MTX + other DMARD (n = 48).

RESULTS: There were no significant differences between the groups in mean age (59/57/56 yrs), disease duration (9.6/7.7/8.3 yrs), seropositivity (80/88/82%), or ACR anatomical disease stage (2/3 in stage III and IV). The number of swollen joints (16.8/19.3/16.1 of 32) and the CRP (4.4/5.1/4.7 mg/dl) was significantly greater in Group 2; other disease activity variables were not significantly different. The mean MTX dose at baseline (mostly parenteral) was 16.8/17.0/12.8 mg and could be reduced to around 12 mg (predominantly oral) in the 3 groups. Frequency of adverse events (80/83/88%), nature of clinical (nausea, hair loss, stomatitis) and laboratory (liver enzyme elevation, slight proteinuria) side effects, and withdrawal rate for side effects (20.6/15.0/12.5%) were not significantly different between the groups. After 5 years 54/54/80% of patients continued their treatment. All efficacy variables improved significantly (p < 0.001) in all groups without significant intergroup difference. Improvement > 50% in the ESR was achieved in 63/68/41% and in the swollen joint count in 70/85/48% of patients after 3 years. The number of patients taking oral steroids decreased from 63/59/65% to 22/31/48% after 3 years. In half the patients hemoglobin increased by at least 1 g/dl.

CONCLUSION: Combination therapy of MTX with parenteral gold or other DMARD is effective in reducing clinical and biochemical disease activity in patients with longstanding destructive RA with no greater risk of toxicity compared with MTX alone; our study however, did not show clear advantages of combination therapy versus monotherapy for effectiveness.

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