OBJECTIVE: To evaluate flare risk when tapering or withdrawing biological or targeted synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (b-/tsDMARDs) compared to continuation in patients with inflammatory arthritis (IA) in sustained remission or low disease activity.
METHODS: Articles were identified in Cochrane Library, PubMed, EMBASE and Web of Science. Eligible trials were randomised, controlled trials comparing tapering and/or withdrawal of b- and/or tsDMARDs with standard dose in IA. Random-effects meta-analysis was performed with risk ratio (RR), or Peto's Odds Ratio (POR) for sparse events, and 95% confidence intervals (95%CI).
RESULTS: The meta-analysis comprised 22 trials: 11 assessed tapering and 7 addressed withdrawal (4 assessed both). Only trials with a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) population were identified. An increased flare risk was demonstrated when b-/tsDMARD tapering was compared to continuation, RR = 1.45 (95%CI: 1.19 to 1.77, I2 = 42.5%), and potentially increased for persistent flare, POR = 1.56 (95%CI: 0.97 to 2.52, I2 = 0%). Comparing tumour necrosis factor inhibitor (TNFi) withdrawal to continuation, a highly increased flare risk (RR = 2.28, 95%CI: 1.78 to 2.93, I2 = 78%) and increased odds of persistent flare (POR = 3.41, 95%CI: 1.91 to 6.09, I2 = 49%) was observed. No clear difference in flare risk between RA or axSpA was observed.
CONCLUSION: A high risk for flare and persistent flare was demonstrated for TNFi withdrawal whereas an increased risk for flare but not for persistent flare was observed for b-/tsDMARD tapering. Thus, tapering seems to be the more favourable approach.
REGISTRATION: PROSPERO (CRD42019136905).