OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of two tapering strategies after achieving controlled disease in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), during 1 year of follow-up.
METHODS: In this multicentre single-blinded (research nurses) randomised controlled trial, patients with RA were included who achieved controlled disease, defined as a Disease Activity Score (DAS) ≤ 2.4 and a Swollen Joint Count (SJC) ≤ 1, treated with both a conventional synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (csDMARD) and a TNF inhibitor. Eligible patients were randomised into gradual tapering csDMARDs or TNF inhibitors. Medication was tapered if the RA was still under control, by cutting the dosage into half, a quarter and thereafter it was stopped. Primary outcome was proportion of patients with a disease flare, defined as DAS > 2.4 and/or SJC > 1. Secondary outcomes were DAS, European Quality of Life-5 Dimensions (EQ5D) and functional ability (Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index [HAQ-DI]) after 1 year and over time.
RESULTS: A total of 189 patients were randomly assigned to tapering csDMARDs (n = 94) or tapering anti-TNF (n = 95). The cumulative flare rates in the csDMARD and anti-TNF tapering group were, respectively, 33 % (95% CI,24% to 43 %) and 43 % (95% CI, 33% to 53 % (p = 0.17). Mean DAS, HAQ-DI and EQ-5D did not differ between tapering groups after 1 year and over time.
CONCLUSION: Up to 9 months, flare rates of tapering csDMARDs or TNF inhibitors were similar. After 1 year, a non-significant difference was found of 10 % favouring csDMARD tapering. Tapering TNF inhibitors was, therefore, not superior to tapering csDMARDs. From a societal perspective, it would be sensible to taper the TNF inhibitor first, because of possible cost reductions and less long-term side effects.
TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: NTR2754.
- anti-TNF therapy
- drug withdrawal
- rheumatoid arthritis