Every year The European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR), which is an E.U.-based organization that represents the patient, healthcare professional and professional societies of rheumatology, holds the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology. This forum serves as a space where rheumatology professionals can connect with patient organizations, as well as to learn and engage with other professionals in rheumatology, all to achieve progress in the care of people who suffer from various autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

This year’s conference took place in Madrid, Spain. Among the thousands of presentations, one scientific session that stood out to me (in my review of the gathering) was a meta-analysis conducted by Bruno Fautrel, MD, PhD, of the Departments of Epidemiology, Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology (from Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris), and his colleagues. Their study suggests that the best way for patients with pre-rheumatoid arthritis to prevent a full onset of rheumatoid arthritis is to intervene with early therapy.

Patients who have pre-rheumatoid arthritis are at an important point in their medical care because this is the ideal time period to prevent full onset of rheumatoid arthritis. Patients and their providers should take into consideration contributing risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, and adjust their lifestyle accordingly. However, Fautrel and his colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of people with the disease and found that medical treatment could effectively prevent progression to rheumatoid arthritis.

The objective of the meta-analysis was to determine the efficacy of steroids, synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biological DMARDs to prevent the onset of clinical rheumatoid arthritis and structural damage in patients.

“We hoped for a better understanding of the mechanism of disease, to identify it in the early stages,” said Fautrel. To gain a better understanding, Fautrel and his colleagues reviewed a total of nine studies. Eight of the studies were about undifferentiated rheumatoid arthritis, while the last study was about patients with early forms of rheumatoid arthritis.

The treatment methods for patients included 80 mg to 120 mg of methylprednisolone, methotrexate, tumor necrosis factor inhibitors, abatacept or rituximab. Overall, the results indicated that early intervention with these medicines showed a decrease in signs of full-onset rheumatoid arthritis in patients.

“This meta-analysis demonstrates that early therapeutic intervention significantly reduces the risk of RA onset in pre-RA patients,” Fautrel said.

So what happens next? Will medicines start making its way into the treatment of early signs of arthritis? Only time – and further studies – will tell.