Earlier and more intense treatment ofrheumatoid arthritis (RA) may be a keyfactor in the discovery that instances ofthe disease today are milder than theyhave been in the past. Researchershave noticed a trend toward patientspresenting with RA earlier in the disease,seeking treatment sooner, and receivingmore thorough treatment today than inthe previous 2 decades. As a result, thenumber of patients whose RA goes on toextreme cases has dropped sharply.
"Patients with early RA presenting in recentyears have less severe disease activityat presentation, as well as a more favorablecourse of their disease, comparedwith patients in earlier years," lead researcherPaco M.J. Welsing, MD, said.
Investigators in the Netherlands studieda total of 525 newly diagnosed RA patientsover 20 years, from 1985 to 2005. Thereport, published in the September 2005issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, statedthat the duration of symptoms for patientshad decreased from an average of 309days in 1985 to 212 days in 2005. Initialimprovement of symptoms with treatmentalso was greater in more recently diagnosedpatients. The researchers speculatethat this finding could be the result of moreaggressive treatment, as well as morepatients being referred to a rheumatologistafter initial diagnosis, a strategy not normallyfollowed in the past.