Management of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has radically changed over the last decade. Diagnostic methods have improved with availability of highly specific tests such as antibody to cyclic citrullinated peptide (specificity ∼96%), and introduction of advanced imaging modalities such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging to facilitate earlier diagnosis. The current aim of management is to achieve remission and prevent joint damage. In order to achieve this goal, inflammation is suppressed as much as possible during the early phase of the disease before onset of joint damage. Aggressive treatments with combinations of disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs are commenced earlier in the course of disease, and tight control maintained with regular objective monitoring of disease activity. Early use of anti-TNFα (tumour necrosis factor α) therapy in combination with methotrexate helps to achieve better clinical and radiographic outcomes, which can be maintained for up to 5 years after withdrawal of anti-TNFα therapy. Apart from anti-TNFα, several other biological treatments are now available, including those that target CD20 on B cells (rituximab), cytokines such as IL1 (anakinra) and IL6 (tocilizumab), and molecules that cause interaction between antigen presenting cells and T cells (abatacept). There is better awareness and understanding of RA associated complications such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is on the decline in light of recent concerns about cardiovascular safety. Evidence is emerging in support of statins and bisphosphonates for improving RA disease activity and preventing erosions, respectively. In the coming years, further improvements in therapeutic strategies are likely with the pace at which research is currently progressing.
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- recent advances
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Competing interests I have received sponsorship from Wyeth and Abbott for attending international conferences.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.