The need to better classify and diagnose early and very early rheumatoid arthritis

J Rheumatol. 2012 Feb;39(2):212-7. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.110967. Epub 2011 Dec 15.


Early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and very early RA are major targets of research and clinical practice. Remission has become a realistic goal in the management of RA, particularly in early disease. The 2010 American College of Rheumatology/European League Against Rheumatism (ACR/EULAR) RA classification criteria, the EULAR treatment recommendations for RA, and the EULAR recommendations for the management of early arthritis focus on early disease and translate the knowledge related to early RA into classification and management. Nevertheless, there is a need for further improvement and progress. Results from 6 recent studies are summarized, evaluating the performance of the 2010 ACR/EULAR RA classification criteria. The data show a significant risk of misclassification, and highlight that overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis may become important issues if the criteria recommend synthetic and biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. Therefore, some considerations are presented on how the current problems and limitations could be overcome in clinical practice and future research. A consensus is needed to better define the early phase of RA and differentiate from other early arthritis. The possible effect of misclassification on spontaneous and drug-induced remission of early and very early RA awaits further elucidation. Such research will eventually lead to more reliable diagnostic and classification criteria for new-onset RA.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / classification*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antirheumatic Agents