Conference Coverage

Patients are interrupting DMARD use well into the COVID-19 pandemic



The COVID-19 pandemic led to a decrease in the proportion of patients with rheumatic diseases who stopped taking their disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), but the percentage who interrupted DMARD treatment increased later in the pandemic, according to speakers at the 2022 Rheumatology Winter Clinical Symposium.

“People seem to be less anxious, but they’re interrupting their DMARD therapy more, more recently than in the pits of COVID, if you will,” said Arthur Kavanaugh, MD, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and director of RWCS.

Dr. John J. Cush (left), a rheumatologist based in Dallas, Tex., and executive editor of, and Dr. Arthur Kavanaugh, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego RWCS 2022 screenshot

Dr. John J. Cush (left) and Dr. Arthur Kavanaugh

Dr. Kavanaugh and his copresenter Jack Cush, MD, were discussing the results of a recent study published in Arthritis Care & Research that evaluated 2,424 patients with rheumatic diseases who completed a baseline and at least one follow-up survey issued by patient organizations between March 2020 and May 2021, with a median of five follow-up surveys completed. The patients included in the study were aged a mean of 57 years, 86.6% were women, 90.5% were White, 41.8% had rheumatoid arthritis (RA), 14.8% had antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA)-associated vasculitis, and 12.4% had psoriatic arthritis. Overall, 52.6% were on biologics or a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor, 30.0% were receiving methotrexate, 21.4% were taking hydroxychloroquine, and 28.6% were receiving low-dose (24.0%) or high-dose (4.6%) glucocorticoids.

Patients’ T-scores on the anxiety short form Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) survey significantly decreased from a score of 58.7 in April 2020 to a score of 53.7 in May 2021 (P < .001), but there was a significant decrease in the interruption of DMARD treatment between April and December 2020 (11.2% vs. 7.5%; P < .001). This percentage rose significantly to 14.0% by May 2021 (P < .001). Patients who stopped using DMARDs were significantly associated with predicted incidence of severe flare in the next survey in adjusted models (12.9% vs. 8.0%; odds ratio, 1.71; 95% confidence interval, 1.23-2.36).

The results tell us “that we as a discipline are not doing a good job educating our patients,” said Dr. Cush, a rheumatologist based in Dallas, Tex., and executive editor of

“I wish we – and I’m really talking about myself – but myself and my practice were more proactive when COVID happened [in] sending out regular bulletins: ‘Don’t stop your therapy; these are the things you get; get the test that you need to get done,’ ” he said. “We let a lot of things go on autopilot with the patient driving throughout COVID. Even now, it’s happening. And this is a problem, and there are going to be consequences to this.”

Dr. Kavanaugh agreed with Dr. Cush’s assessment, suggesting that the pandemic came up quickly enough that it was difficult to be proactive with the situation.

Patients on JAK inhibitors as new COVID-19 risk group?

Another standout study on COVID-19 from 2021 was an analysis of the COVID-19 Global Rheumatology Alliance physician registry that examined risk of COVID-19 severity for patients with RA taking biologic or targeted synthetic DMARDs (tsDMARDs), which was presented at the 2021 EULAR congress and later published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.


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