About two-thirds of children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) were able to return to an inactive disease state within 12 months after a flare occurred when they took a break from medication, and slightly more than half – 55% – reached this state within 6 months, according to findings from registry data examined in a study published in Arthritis Care & Research.
Sarah Ringold, MD, MS, of the Seattle Children's Hospital, and coauthors used data from participants in the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA) Registry to track what happened to patients when they took a break from antirheumatic drugs. They described their paper as being the first to use a large multicenter database such as the CARRA Registry to focus on JIA outcomes after medication discontinuation and flare, to describe flare severity after medication discontinuation, and to report patterns of medication use for flares.
"To date, JIA studies have established that flares after medication discontinuation are common but have generated conflicting data regarding flare risk factors," Ringold and coauthors wrote. "Since it is not yet possible to predict reliably which children will successfully discontinue medication, families and physicians face uncertainty when deciding to stop medications, and there is significant variation in approach."
The study will be "very helpful" to physicians working with parents and patients to make decisions about discontinuing medications, said Grant Schulert, MD, PhD, of Cincinnati Children's Hospital, who was not involved with the study.
"It gives some numbers to help us have those conversations," he said in an interview.
But interpreting those numbers still will present parents with a challenge, Schulert said.
"You can say: 'The glass is half full; 55% of them could go back into remission in 6 months, a little bit higher in a year,' " he said. "Or the glass is half empty; some of them, even at a year, are still not back in remission."
But "patients aren't a statistic. They're each one person," he said. "They're going to be in one of those two situations."
There are many challenges in explaining the potential advantages and disadvantages of medication breaks to patients and families, said the study's senior author, Daniel B. Horton, MD, MSCE, of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the Rutgers Center for Pharmacoepidemiology and Treatment Science, both in New Brunswick, N.J., and the department of biostatistics and epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health, Piscataway, N.J.
"One of the challenges of explaining the pros and cons about stopping medicines is the uncertainty – not knowing if and when a flare will occur, if and when a flare would be well controlled, and, for treatments that are continued, if and when complications of that treatment could occur," Horton said in an interview. "Many patients and families are afraid about what the medicines might do long-term and want to stop treatment as soon as possible, despite the risks of stopping. Another challenge is that we do not yet have accurate, widely available tests that help us predict these various outcomes. Still, it is important for clinicians to explain the risks of continuing treatment and of stopping treatment, and to give patients and families time to ask questions and share their own values and preferences. If these conversations don't happen, patients or families may just stop the medicines even if stopping is not warranted or is likely to lead to a poor outcome."
Of the 367 patients studied, 270 (74%) were female. Half of all patients in the study had extended oligoarticular/rheumatoid factor (RF)–negative polyarticular JIA, and the second most common category was persistent oligoarthritis at 25%.The median age at disease onset was 4, with a range of 2-9 years.
The median age at disease flare was 11.3, with a range of 7.5-15.7 years. At the time of flare, children had a median disease duration of 5.1 years and had been off systemic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) for a median of 205 days. In addition, at the time of flare, the median active joint count was 1 and the maximum active joint count was 33, and approximately 13% of children had 5 or more active joints.
Conventional synthetic DMARDs were the most commonly stopped medications (48%), and tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFi) were second (42%), Ringold and coauthors wrote.
Independent predictors of successful recapture of inactive disease included TNFi as recapture medication and history of a non-TNFi biologic use.
Ringold and coauthors noted limitations of the registry-based study. This is "a convenience sample of patients who are cared for and consented at academic sites, and additional study may be needed to understand how these results generalize to other countries and health systems," they wrote.
And there may have been misclassification and inclusion of patients who stopped medications for self-perceived well-controlled disease, they wrote.
"Although the intent was to include children who stopped their medications at their physician's direction due to physician-confirmed inactive disease, patients who had been previously enrolled in the registry were included if inactive disease was listed as the reason for medication discontinuation," they said.
Still, these results should serve as a "benchmark for future studies of medication discontinuation" in JIA, the researchers wrote.
In an accompanying editorial, Melissa L. Mannion, MD, MSPH, and Randy Q. Cron, MD, PhD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham noted that pediatric rheumatologists now face what they call the "fortunate challenge" of helping patients and parents decide whether treatments can be stopped in cases where there's been a sustained period of inactive disease.
"Once a patient has reached the goal of inactive disease, why would patients or providers want to stop medications?" Mannion and Cron wrote. "We tell our patients that we want them to be like everyone else and have no limitations on their goals. However, the burden of chronic medication to achieve that goal is a constant reminder that they are different from their peers."
In their article, Mannion and Cron noted what they called "interesting" results observed among children with different forms of JIA in the study.
Children with "systemic JIA had the highest recapture rates at 6 or 12 months, perhaps reflecting the high percentage use of [biologic] DMARDs targeting interleukin-1 and IL-6, or maybe the timeliness of recognition (e.g., fever, rash) of disease flare," Mannion and Cron wrote. "Conversely, children with JIA enthesitis-related arthritis (ERA) had the lowest recapture rate at 6 months (27.6%, even lower than RF-positive polyarticular JIA, 42.9%)."
Still, the editorial authors said that "additional well-controlled studies are needed to move pediatric rheumatology deeper into the realm of precision medicine and the ability to decide whether or not to wean DMARD therapy for those with clinically inactive disease."
Pamela Weiss, MD, of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said in a comment that the study by Ringold and colleagues, as well as others that address similar questions, "are critically needed to move our field towards a personalized medicine approach." But she added that while the paper from Ringold and colleagues addresses an important question, it "should be interpreted with some caution."
She noted, for example, that "disease flare," which prompted reinitiation of treatment and study entry, was not always aligned with a registry visit, which makes determination of the primary exposure less stringent. The rate of recapture across JIA categories differed by as much as 20% depending upon which inactive disease assessment outcome was used – either the study's novel but unvalidated primary outcome or the validated secondary outcome of using the clinical Juvenile Arthritis Disease Activity Score based on 10 joints. The resulting difference was marked for some JIA categories and minimal for others.
"The flare and recapture rates are likely to be vastly different for JIA categories with distinct pathophysiology – namely systemic JIA, psoriatic arthritis, and enthesitis-related arthritis," Weiss said. "While numbers for these categories were too small to make meaningful conclusions, grouping them with the other JIA categories has limitations."
The research was funded by a Rheumatology Research Foundation Innovative Research Award.
Ringold's current employment is through Janssen Research & Development. She changed primary employment from Seattle Children's to Janssen during completion of the analyses and preparation of the manuscript. She has maintained her affiliation with Seattle Children's. Schulert has consulting for Novartis. Cron reported speaker fees, consulting fees, and grant support from Sobi, consulting fees from Sironax and Novartis, speaker fees from Lilly, and support from Pfizer for working on a committee adjudicating clinical trial side effects.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.
Lead image: Dreamstime
Image 1: Dr Sara Ringold
Image 2: Dr Grant Schulert
Image 3: Dr Pamela Weiss
© 2022 Frontline Medical Communications Inc.
Cite this: Stopping JIA Drugs? Many Can Regain Control After a Flare - Medscape - Aug 11, 2022.