The number of hospital admissions and joint replacements among rheumatoid arthritis patients in Ireland dropped dramatically between 1995 and 2010, according to a study presented at the 2012 annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

The researchers link wide use of TNF inhibitors with these positive outcomes – specifically, a 13 percent yearly reduction in hospital stays and a 10 percent yearly reduction in the number of musculoskeletal surgeries. The study looked at nearly 58,000 hospital records of rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, patients throughout Ireland.

“The strength of this study is that this data is national, including all 57 public hospitals,” says study co-author Oliver FitzGerald, MD, consultant rheumatologist at St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin. The weak spot of the study, he says, is that RA may have been miscoded as osteoarthritis, or OA, in some cases – and private hospitals were not included.

This research builds on a body of evidence linking the use of powerful RA drugs with improved patient outcomes. One study published earlier this year in The Journal of Rheumatology found that people diagnosed with RA in the past 15 years are less likely to need joint surgery than those diagnosed previously. Researchers behind that study, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., attribute this to aggressive treatment of RA with traditional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as methotrexate, as well as biologics, which were introduced in the U.S. in the late 1990s.

“The general consensus is that RA patients are doing so much better in the last decade than before. This large, national register-based study [in Ireland] provides credible data to support this,” says Arnold Ceponis, MD, PhD, a rheumatologist with the University of California, San Diego, Health System.