Having a co-morbidity predicts worse outcome in early rheumatoid arthritis despite intensive treatment: a post hoc evaluation of the pragmatic randomized controlled CareRA trial

Objectives: To quantify the prevalence of co-morbidities in patients with early RA and determine their prognostic value for effectiveness outcomes in a randomized trial.

Methods: We included patients from the 2-year pragmatic randomized CareRA trial, who had early RA (diagnosis < 1 year), were DMARD naïve and then treated-to-target with different remission induction schemes. Prevalence of co-morbidities was registered at baseline and the Rheumatic Diseases Comorbidity Index (RDCI; range 0-9) was calculated. We tested the relation between baseline RDCI and outcomes including disease activity (DAS28-CRP), physical function (HAQ index), quality of life (SF-36 domains) and hospitalizations over 2 years, using linear mixed models or generalized estimating equations models.

Results: Of 379 included patients, 167 (44%) had a RDCI of minimum 1. RDCI scores of 1, 2 or ≥3 were obtained in 65 (17%), 70 (19%), and 32 (8%) participants, respectively. The most frequent co-morbidity was hypertension (22%). Patients with co-morbidities had significantly higher HAQ (β = 0.215; 95% CI: 0.071, 0.358), DAS28-CRP (β = 0.225; 95% CI: 0.132, 0.319) and lower SF-36 physical component summary scores (β =-3.195; 95% CI: -4.844, -1.546) over 2 years than patients without co-morbidities, after adjusting for possible confounders including disease activity and randomized treatment. Patients with co-morbidities had over time lower chances of achieving remission (OR = 0.724; 95% CI: 0.604, 0.867) and a higher risk of hospitalization (OR = 3.725; 95% CI: 2.136, 6.494).

Conclusion: At disease onset, almost half of RA patients had at least one clinically important co-morbidity. Having co-morbidities was associated with worse functionality and disease activity outcomes over 2 years, despite intensive remission induction treatment.

Trial registration: Clinical trials NCT01172639.

Keywords: co-morbidities; csDMARDs; disease activity; functionality; glucocorticoids; rheumatoid arthritis; treatment strategies.