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Review
, 9 (2), 287-304

Classification Criteria for Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Review

Classification Criteria for Rheumatoid Arthritis

A J MacGregor. Baillieres Clin Rheumatol.

Abstract

The development of classification schemes for RA in the last 40 years has followed the increasingly precise understanding of the nature of the clinical disease and the recognition of the different requirements of classification methods in clinic and population settings. In published studies of RA in clinic patients the most widely used criteria sets have been the 1958 ARA (ACR) criteria and its 1961 adaptation (the Rome (active) criteria). These sets classified disease as 'classical', 'definite', 'probable' and 'possible' RA based on criteria comprising clinical, serological, radiological and histological features (the latter were dropped from the Rome criteria set because of their impracticality). More recently, a new criteria set (the 1987 ARA criteria) has been developed using statistical techniques. This set was derived using RA cases and controls attending hospital clinics. It is based on the earlier criteria sets but accommodates the characteristic pattern of joint involvement in RA more precisely. The criteria recognize only the single disease category of 'rheumatoid arthritis'. In validation studies, the 1987 criteria set has been found to have enhanced specificity over earlier schemes in clinic-based studies of RA. The sensitivity may, however, be reduced, in particular in studies of early disease. The application of classification criteria for case recognition in the population and family studies of RA has proved more problematic. In these settings, there is the additional requirement to recognize individuals with remitted and inactive disease as RA cases. The 1966 New York criteria were developed for this specific purpose, however their format proved cumbersome and they have not been widely adopted. The 1987 criteria set is insufficiently sensitive to recognize inactive disease if the criteria are applied exactly as they have been defined. The sensitivity of the 1987 criteria set is, however, substantially enhanced if the criteria are adapted to incorporate features of past disease activity, for example by allowing deformity to substitute for swelling and by incorporating data on the past occurrence of rheumatoid factor and rheumatoid nodules. Developments in the immunology and genetics of RA may in the future provide more accurate tools for classification and may lead to recognition of more precise disease subsets. At present, however, the 1987 ARA criteria provide the most appropriate basis for case recognition in both clinic and population-based studies.

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