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Rheumatoid arthritis patients 'have experienced progress in recent decades'

Published on 19 April 2017
Rheumatoid arthritis patients 'have experienced progress in recent decades'

Rheumatoid arthritis patients have experienced improved outcomes over the last 20 years as a result of advancements in modern approaches to treatment.

This is according to a new Arthritis Research UK-backed study, conducted by the Universities of Manchester and East Anglia, which shows that early and more aggressive treatment of the disease is leading to significant improvements in the daily lives of patients.

Better outcomes due to treatment advances
The research, published in the medical journal Arthritis and Rheumatology, examined 20 years of data from 1990 to 2010, looking at 602 patients recruited to the Norfolk Arthritis Register and assessed at regular intervals over the course of two decades.

It was found that patients who were prescribed disease-modifying drug therapies - including sulfasalazine, methotrexate and steroids - within six months of symptom onset experienced significantly more pronounced improvements in their ability to walk, grip and dress themselves over time, compared to patients who were treated later.

Moreover, patients receiving these therapies within the first six months had a lower risk of dying, even after controlling for the severity of the individual disease cases.

Improving access to early treatment
This shows how major advances in available treatments and strategies for the management of rheumatoid arthritis over the past 20 years have led to tangible benefits for patients, as well as demonstrating the importance of offering early access to treatment to as many people as possible.

James Gwinnutt, first author of the study at the University of Manchester, said: "The good news is that early intervention has become more and more common in the NHS over these past 20 years.

"In the early 1990s, early intervention would happen in about 30 per cent of cases; nowadays, that figure is probably more like 60 to 70 per cent. There's no reason why this improvement could not extend further."

Arthritis Research UK's view
Dr Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, said: "Rheumatoid arthritis is an incredibly painful condition that can be diagnosed at any age and can have an impact on a person's everyday life. This study confirms how important early diagnosis and the commencement of treatment is. It is also encouraging to hear about the progress that has been made over the last 20 years.

"Now the scientific community must continue to build on this, so that together we can continue to harness the power of exceptional science and make everyday life better for all people with arthritis."

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Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.