- Timely diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and early initiation of treatment (specifically methotrexate) can beneficially impact outcomes by improving physical function, as well as delaying or preventing irreversible joint damage.
- Low-dose methotrexate – as monotherapy and in combination with other DMARDS (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) – remains the cornerstone of RA therapy.
- Collaboration and communication between the patient and all their healthcare providers can contribute to an integrated management plan, provide consistent messaging about appropriate medicines, support adherence and optimise outcomes.
Join the webinar - 12 April 2018, 7pm AEST
Be part of an interdisciplinary discussion about why early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for improved health outcomes for people with rheumatoid arthritis and how good communication and collaborative care can help patients get the most out of methotrexate treatment.
Background to the rheumatoid arthritis program
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a relatively common condition, reported to affect about 445,000 Australians (2%). It has a major impact on quality of life, is an important cause of disability and psychological distress, and is associated with increased mortality due to related comorbidities and complications.1
Clinical presentation can vary, but typically this chronic autoimmune condition causes joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. If untreated, the condition can be progressive and lead to joint destruction and deformity.
The aim of treatment for RA is to achieve clinical remission or low disease activity. People with suspected RA should be referred to a rheumatologist as quickly as possible to allow early diagnosis and initiation of DMARD therapy within the therapeutic ‘window of opportunity’.
DMARD treatment can alter the course of disease by improving physical function, and also delay or prevent irreversible joint damage.2,3,4 Early treatment with conventional synthetic DMARDs (csDMARDs) is associated with higher rates of disease remission and reductions in long-term complications, including disability.2,3,4
The csDMARD methotrexate given at a low dose once weekly is the gold standard and first-line therapy for RA. It should be initiated and continued wherever tolerated.
A definitive diagnosis of RA can be difficult to make,2 leading to delays in the initiation of treatment. To address this delay, NPS MedicineWise has worked closely together with the Australian Rheumatology Association to develop a national educational program that will improve the quality use of medicines in the management of rheumatoid arthritis by Australian health professionals.
The program also recognises that health professionals have a central role to play in delivering consistent messaging to their patients about the place of once-weekly low-dose methotrexate for RA therapy. It is reported that adherence to methotrexate therapy is variable – due partly to misconceptions about the medicine.5
- Arthritis Australia. Time to move: rheumatoid arthritis. A national strategy to reduce a costly burden. Sydney: Arthritis Australia, March 2014 (accessed 27 February 2018).
- Rheumatology Expert Group. Therapeutic Guidelines: Rheumatoid arthritis. West Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Ltd, 2017 (accessed 14 December 2017).
- Smolen JS, Landewé R, Bijlsma J, et al. EULAR recommendations for the management of rheumatoid arthritis with synthetic and biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs: 2016 update. Ann Rheum Diseases 2017;76:960-77.
- Singh JA, Saag KG, Bridges SL, Jr., et al. 2015 American College of Rheumatology Guideline for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Rheumatol 2016;68:1-26.
- Curtis JR, Byker VP, Aassi M, et al. Adherence and persistence with methotrexate in rheumatoid arthritis. A systematic review. J Rheumatol 2016: 43: 1997-2009.