TUESDAY, June 18, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Overweight and obese people with rheumatoid arthritis are less likely to go into remission in the early stages of the disease and require much more drug treatment than people with normal weight, according to a new study.
The study included nearly 350 people with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who underwent a treatment meant to achieve remission of their disease. The strategy included strict follow-up visits, as well as treatment with steroids and the drug methotrexate, combined with anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) therapy if a good response didn't occur. Anti-TNF drugs are used to reduce inflammation in a variety of conditions.
At six and 12 months of follow-up, overweight and obese patients had lower rates of remission. After 12 months, a higher percentage of overweight and obese patients were still on anti-TNF therapy, compared to normal-weight patients.
The researchers also said overweight and obese patients required 2.4 times more anti-TNF therapy throughout the study than normal-weight patients.
The study was presented Friday at the annual meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism in Madrid, Spain. The data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
"Obesity and rheumatoid arthritis are both on the rise, with devastating effects on individuals and society as a whole," study author Elisa Gremese said in an organization news release. "These data reinforce the link between obesity and inflammation, and establish that [weight] is one of the few modifiable variables influencing the major outcomes in RA."
"There is an urgent need to address the issues of overweight and obesity to improve patients' chances of successful remission," said Gremese, of the Institute of Rheumatology and Affine Sciences at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, in Rome.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about one in 100 people worldwide. It can cause pain, stiffness, progressive joint destruction and deformity, and reduce physical function, quality of life, life expectancy and the ability to work.
The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about rheumatoid arthritis.