The cause of rheumatoid arthritis might still be unknown, but an understanding of its pathological processes has advanced greatly in the last 20 years.
In the April issue of Australian Prescriber, Dr Tom Wilsdon, clinical pharmacology registrar at Flinders Medical Centre, and Professor Catherine Hill from the School of Medicine, University of Adelaide write that these advances have markedly changed the way the disease is managed and as a result have improved outcomes for patients.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune condition affecting joints. Its onset is usually in people aged 35–60 years, however the majority of patients in Australia are over 65.
Without treatment, the underlying inflammatory process can lead to joint destruction, pain, deformity, disability and also heart disease. Newer treatments for rheumatoid arthritis modify the course of the disease. They reduce inflammation and pain, and prevent further joint damage.
The authors say patients with suspected rheumatoid arthritis should be referred for treatment promptly as early intervention can achieve better results for patients over the long term.
“Within three months of onset there is a ‘window of opportunity’ as early treatment is more likely to induce remission and slow down progression of the condition. Delaying treatment beyond three months causes more joint destruction and a higher chance of requiring long-term treatment.”