Many Stop Taking Rheumatoid Arthritis Meds Too Soon: Study

FRIDAY, June 14 (HealthDay News) -- About half of rheumatoid arthritis patients stopped taking their medications within two years after they started them, a new study finds.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects about one in 100 people worldwide and can cause progressive joint destruction, deformity, pain and stiffness. The disease can reduce physical function, quality of life and life expectancy.

The main reason about one-third of patients discontinued their medications was because the drugs lost their effectiveness, the study authors found. Other reasons included safety concerns (20 percent), doctor preference (nearly 28 percent), patient preference (about 18 percent) and access to treatment (9 percent), according to the study results, which were presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR), in Madrid, Spain.

Rheumatoid arthritis "is a progressive disease, which, if left untreated, can significantly and permanently reduce joint function, patient mobility and quality of life," study lead author Dr. Vibeke Strand, a clinical professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in an EULAR news release.

"Studies have shown that patients sustain maximum benefit from [rheumatoid arthritis] treatment in the first two years -- yet our data highlight significant discontinuation rates during this time period," Strand said.

The study included more than 6,200 rheumatoid arthritis patients who started treatment by taking either tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFi) or non-TNFi biologics. In the TNFi group, the percentages of patients who continued taking their medications were about 82 percent at six months, 68 percent at 12 months and 52 percent at 24 months. In the non-TNFi group, the percentages for those corresponding time periods were about 81 percent, 63 percent and 46 percent, respectively.

The average time to medication discontinuation was 26.5 months in the TNFi group and 20.5 months in the non-TNFi group, the investigators found.

"While there is no cure for [rheumatoid arthritis], initiating treatment early and improving adherence can enable patients to lead active and productive lives," Strand said in the news release.

The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about rheumatoid arthritis.

SOURCE: European League Against Rheumatism, news release, June 13, 2013