The new criteria focus on early diagnosis and treatment of initial symptoms to prevent more serious late stage disease. Writing in the Annals of Rheumatic Disease, the researchers said: 'The new criteria redefine RA, reflecting our collective hope that, in the future, RA will no longer be characterised by erosive joint disease and persistence of symptoms, although these characteristics will continue to define established or longstanding untreated disease.'
If identified early, DMARDs can prevent the destructive and disabling joint damage, a hallmark of late stage RA.
The new criteria classify 'definite RA' as presence of synovitis and absence of an alternative diagnosis to explain synovitis, alongside a combined score of six or more from each of four domains: number and site of affected joints; blood tests results; increase in inflammatory proteins; and duration of symptoms.
Around 350,000 people in the UK live with RA, which affects around three times as many women as men.
The new criteria have been proposed by an international team, including two Manchester University researchers: Alan Silman, Professor of Rheumatic Disease Epidemiology and Deborah Symmons, Professor of Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Epidemiology.