A new classification criteria for rheumatoid arthritis, which will allow for early detection of the disease, before joints get damaged, has been issued by the American College of Rheumatology.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and limitation in the motion and function of multiple joints.
"The 1987 criteria actually posed a major barrier to the study of treatments designed to prevent joint damage in RA," explains Gillian Hawker.
To establish the new criteria, researchers completed three phases of work.
The first phase was to review existing data to determine patients who were "at a high risk of developing the more persistent and erosive arthritis that we currently consider to be RA."
The second phase was to decide which factors were most important in determining a person's likelihood of developing RA.
"Both scientific evidence and the experience of RA experts needed to be considered in the development of the new criteria to ensure all important factors were identified," explains criteria author Tuhina Neogi.
In phase three, researchers integrated the findings from the first two phases of work. Patients to whom these criteria should be applied must have confirmed presence of joint swelling, indicating synovitis-the inflammation of the synovial membrane, which lines a joint-in at least one joint, and no other possible diagnosis that might better explain the symptoms.
"We believe these new classification criteria will open the door to more meaningful studies of RA and will eventually lead to changes in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. This is an important step for RA researchers, practicing rheumatologists and patients," explains ACR President Stanley B. Cohen.
The study is published in the College's journal, Arthritis and Rheumatism.