Perioperative Antirheumatic Drug Guideline Contains Caveats

The latest guideline for perioperative management of antirheumatic medication in patients undergoing total hip (THA) and total knee arthroplasty (TKA) offers recommendations based on the latest evidence, but many of those recommendations are based on a low level of evidence, according to a speaker at the 2023 Rheumatology Winter Clinical Symposium.

Martin Bergman, MD, clinical professor of medicine at Drexel University, Philadelphia, said the development of the American College of Rheumatology/American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons guideline was necessary because there was a lack of consensus on when to stop treatments prior to patients with rheumatologic disease undergoing THA and TKA, and when it was appropriate to restart those treatments.

“We all were having the same problem, and I think everybody recognized that just stopping medicines forever didn’t make sense, but maybe continuing medicines also didn’t make sense,” Dr. Bergman said.

While the 2017 ACR/AAHKS perioperative management guideline contained good recommendations, the “explosion” of new medications in rheumatology made it necessary to update the guideline with the latest data on new medications such as immunosuppressants.

2022 guideline recommendations

In the 2022 guideline, which covers disease-modifying treatments taken by patients with rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthritis, and psoriatic arthritis, the authors reaffirmed their recommendations to continue methotrexate, sulfasalazine, hydroxychloroquine, leflunomide, and apremilast through total joint arthroplasty.

Where the 2022 guideline differs from the 2017 guideline is in which biologics are covered and under what circumstances they should be withheld and restarted around surgery. The 2022 guideline includes recommendations for abatacept, adalimumab, anakinra, certolizumab pegol, etanercept, golimumab, guselkumab, infliximab, ixekizumab, rituximab, secukinumab, tocilizumab, and ustekinumab. Each biologic has its own recommended stop and restart times based around the dosing interval and respective method of administration. Dr. Bergman said a general rule with biologics under the new guideline is that the timing of surgery should occur approximately 1 week after the first missed dose of the medication. The only biologic that does not follow this pattern is rituximab, where surgery should be planned for 1 month after the last missed dose.

Dr. Bergman noted that how the guidelines handle interval dosing with infliximab may present a problem. The guideline provides recommendations for patients receiving infliximab every 4 weeks, every 6 weeks, and every 8 weeks. However, Dr. Bergman said this can create a scenario where a patient receiving infliximab at a dose of 3 mg/kg every 8 weeks has surgery at 9 weeks, a patient receiving 5 mg/kg every 6 weeks has surgery at 7 weeks, and a patient receiving 10 mg/kg every 4 weeks has surgery at 5 weeks. “There is some intellectual problem with it,” he said.

Another change from the 2017 guideline is how long to wait for surgery after stopping Janus kinase inhibitors. While the 2017 guideline recommended withholding JAK inhibitors 7 days before surgery, the 2022 guideline lowered that waiting period to 3 days, Dr. Bergman explained.

Concerning use of steroids around THA and TKA surgery, “the days of stress steroid dosing are done,” Dr. Bergman said. “You don’t have to stress dose them. You just follow them, and you keep them on their steroid dose.”

The new guideline recommends restarting therapy once the wound is healed and there is no physical evidence of infection at approximately 2 weeks. “There’s no data to support this,” he said, and his concern is that patients who have stopped a tumor necrosis factor inhibitor may flare if they don’t restart their medication.

While the guideline also covered recommendations for systemic lupus erythematosus, they are “very similar” to the recommendations for inflammatory arthritis, Dr. Bergman noted. “If you have somebody who is not very sick, you stop the medications,” he said, “but try to stop anything else about a week before the surgery. If they’re sick, you basically have to keep them on their medications.”

Caveats in guideline

The recommendations in the 2022 guideline come with a number of caveats, Dr. Bergman noted. For instance, the authors acknowledged limitations in the guideline regarding providing recommendations for only THA and TKA, the “paucity of evidence” around direct infection risk resulting from medications in the perioperative period for THA and TKA, the nonseparation of biologics when assessing infection risk, and the use of dosing interval as a metric for stopping the drug without considering the drug’s half-life.

A “crucial caveat,” Dr. Bergman said, was that the guideline focused on infection risk based on a statement from a panel of patients prior to the development of the 2017 guideline, which “stated very clearly any risk of infection, while rare, was more significant to them than the possibility of postoperative flares, despite flares being reported in over 60% of patients after surgery.

“For the patients, the paramount question was infection, infection, infection, infection. That’s all they cared about, and that is the basis behind a lot of the decision-making here,” Dr. Bergman said.

Another caveat came from a communication Dr. Bergman received from one of the panel members. The panel member noted there were no conclusions or recommendations provided in the guideline for how to manage perioperative flares, such as restarting a corticosteroid or biologic agent. “There was a lot of discussion about what to do with steroids if patients flare, or what to do with [other] medications if they flare, and they just couldn’t come to a consensus,” Dr. Bergman said. “It’s just not discussed.”

Dr. Bergman said he is “somewhat critical” of the ACR/AAHKS guideline, but noted it is an “ambitious project” given the lack of evidence for the recommendations. “The alternative was to stop the medications forever and having people really flare, or at least try to get some semblance of rationality behind what we’re going to do,” he said.

Response from attendees

Jack Cush, MD, a rheumatologist based in Dallas and executive editor of, took issue with the new recommendations surrounding stopping infliximab. When giving a patient infliximab every 8 weeks at 3 mg/kg, “you’re giving [it] at the nadir of the drug,” he said.

Rather than drug half-life, “it’s about inflammation,” he emphasized. “Inflammation is dominant in causing infection. It drives risk more than anything. The worst thing you can do is wash someone out.

“If you’re going beyond 8 weeks on infliximab, you’re getting closer to washing them out,” he pointed out. “I think it’s a really bad idea.”

Allan Gibofsky, MD, JD, professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and codirector of the Clinic for Inflammatory Arthritis and Biologic Therapy at Hospital for Special Surgery, both in New York, explained that the guideline is not standard of care, which would be subject to malpractice if not implemented properly.

“When you have guidelines, you follow them unless there are clinical situations which would necessitate another approach to the patient,” he said. “Professional institutions and associations will never put forth rules, they will put forth guidelines so you have the opportunity to deviate from them when the appropriate clinical situation dictates.”

Dr. Bergman reported being a speaker and consultant for AbbVie, Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Pfizer, and Regeneron; he holds stock in Johnson & Johnson and Merck.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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