In a prospective followup study of 147 patients with rheumatoid arthritis of recent onset, we assessed the progression of radiographic evidence of joint damage on films of the patients' hands and feet obtained biannually. Patients were receiving first-line and second-line treatment. Ninety patients were followed up for 3 years, and 57 were followed up for only 2 years. Radiographic damage was determined by a modification of the method described by Sharp, and to ensure comparability of findings, we determined the percentage of damage per joint group (actual score divided by the maximum possible score). After 3 years, radiographic damage was present in 70% of the patients, all of whom could be identified after 1 year of study. Overall, 18-20% of the joints of the hands and feet were affected after 3 years, with relatively little abnormality per joint (approximately 8% of maximum possible score). During the entire followup, more foot joints than hand joints were affected. The rate of progression in the first year was significantly higher than in the second and third years of study, indicating a flattening of the curve of radiographic progression of joint damage.