A new study presented today at the European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress (EULAR 2014) showed that obese patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have higher DAS (disease activity) scores than non-obese patients, irrespective of their disease stage.1 With clinical remission as the ultimate therapeutic goal in RA,2 several studies have demonstrated that treatment to target – a treatment approach guided by its impact on reducing DAS scores – is more effective in lowering disease activity and, ultimately, reaching remission than usual care.3-7 Because obese patients have inflated DAS scores, treatment to target protocols may result in them being treated more aggressively than non-obese patients, which would explain the inverse relationship between body mass index (BMI)* and outcomes in RA.†
"Increasing levels of body fat are associated with heightened production of proinflammatory signalling proteins and raised levels of inflammatory markers. This systemic inflammation could inflate standard DAS scores and mean that obese patients receive more aggressive treatment than their non-obese counterpart," commented Dr. Christopher Sparks, Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom. "Not only do these results provide an explanation for the paradoxical relationship between BMI and disease outcome in RA, they clearly support the benefit to all RA patients of early and aggressive treatment."
RA is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects 0.3-1.0% of the general population; approximately one in 100 people worldwide. It is more prevalent among women than men, and more prevalent in developed countries.8 The symptoms of the disease, which include persistent inflammation, can lead to irreversible joint damage.
In this study, clinical data from an international RA database were used to identify an early (eRA, disease duration <12 months) and established (disease duration ≥12 months) RA cohort. Patient demographics, DAS28 and BMI were collected from the first recorded visit on the database.
The cohorts were categorised into 5 groups according to their BMI: 1) Underweight <18.5, 2) Normal 18.5-24.9, 3) Overweight 25-29.9, 4) Obese I 30-34.9 and 5) Obese II ≥35. Associations between RA disease variables and BMI category (using normal BMI as the reference group) were explored using logistic regression analysis for both the eRA and established RA cohorts, adjusting for age, gender and smoking status. Median values were used as cut offs for high DAS28 component levels.
Complete data was identified for 3,534 patients; their mean age was 54.7 (SD 14.3) and 72.5% were female. The eRA cohort was comprised 1,553 patients with <1 year of disease duration; in the established RA cohort (n=1981) the median disease duration was 7.2yrs [IQR 3.7, 13.6]. The distribution of BMI categories was similar in both the eRA and established RA cohorts (mean BMI 27.1 (SD 5.4) and 26.8 (SD 5.2) respectively).
When the analysis was repeated in the established RA cohort, similar significant associations between BMI categories and disease characteristics were seen (although high VAS did not reach significance). When RA adjusted BMI categories9 were used, significant associations between obese patients (BMI ≥28) and DAS28 >5.1, elevated ESR, high TJC, and high VAS remained.
Explore further: Overweight and obese patients less likely to achieve remission in early RA
More information: Abstract Number: OP0196
1 Sparks CR, et al. Obesity and disease activity in a large international rheumatoid arthritis cohort. EULAR 2014; Paris: OP0196
2 Smolen JS, Landewé R, Breedveld FC, et al. EULAR recommendations for the management of rheumatoid arthritis with synthetic and biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. Ann Rheum Dis 2010; 69:964-975
3 Grigor C, Capell H, Stirling A, et al. Effect of a treatment strategy of tight control for rheumatoid arthritis (the TICORA study): a single-blind randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2004; 364:263-269
4 Verstappen SM, Jacobs JW, van der Veen MJ, et al. Intensive treatment with methotrexate in early rheumatoid arthritis: aiming for remission. Computer Assisted Management in Early Rheumatoid Arthritis (CAMERA, an open-label strategy trial). Ann Rheum Dis 2007; 66:1443-1449
5 Fransen J, Moens HB, Speyer I, et al. Effectiveness of systematic monitoring of rheumatoid arthritis disease activity in daily practice: a multicentre, cluster randomised controlled trial. Ann Rheum Dis 2005; 64:1294-1298
6 Goekoop-Ruiterman YP, de Vries-Bouwstra JK, Kerstens PJ, et al. DAS-driven therapy versus routine care in patients with recent-onset active rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Rheum Dis 2010; 69:65-69
7 Schipper L, Vermeer M, Kuper H, Hoekstra M, Haagsma C, den Broeder A, van Riel P, Fransen F, van de Laar M: A tight control treatment strategy aiming for remission in early rheumatoid arthritis is more effective than usual care treatment in daily clinical practice: a study of two cohorts in the Dutch Rheumatoid Arthritis Monitoring (DREAM) registry. Ann Rheum Dis 2012; 71:845-850
8 Woolf AD, et al. Burden of major musculoskeletal conditions. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2003; 81: 646-656
9 Stavropoulos-Kalinoglou, et al. Redefining overweight and obesity in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Ann Rheum Dis 2007; 66:1316-1321
* BMI, Body Mass Index; measure of body fat defined as body mass divided by the square of an individual's height. 1) Underweight <18.5, 2) Normal 18.5-24.9, 3) Overweight 25-29.9, 4) Obese I 30-34.9 and 5) Obese II ≥35.
† Defined by less radiographic joint damage (RJD)