Objective: To investigate the occurrence, diagnosis and course of all new inflammatory arthropathies seen in a special Early Arthritis Clinic (EAC).
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: Academic Medical Hospital, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Methods: An Early Arthritis Clinic (EAC) was started in the outpatient clinic of rheumatology of Leiden University Hospital for diagnostic work-up according to protocol of patients with recent-onset arthritis. Inclusion criteria were: active arthritis with onset < 2 years without traumatic aetiology and no referral for a second opinion.
Results: In the first 18 months 276 patients were sent to the EAC, 212 met the inclusion criteria. After 2 weeks the following diagnoses were made: rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (58; 28%), psoriatic arthritis (8; 4%), reactive arthritis (11; 5%) sarcoidosis (9; 4%), crystal arthritis (30; 14%), osteoarthritis (8; 4%), other diagnosis (18; 8%). The remaining 70 patients (33%) were classified as arthritis e causa ignota (e.c.i.). After follow-up, the first diagnoses changed in 27 (12%) patients, of whom 20 patients originally had had the diagnosis of arthritis e.c.i. Persistent arthritis was found in 90% of RA and in 35% of arthritis e.c.i. Other forms of arthritis seldom showed persistent activity.
Conclusion: In the EAC, RA, arthritis e.c.i. and crystal arthritis were seen most often. Almost all RA patients showed persistent arthritis, as against only a third of those with arthritis e.c.i. Because of the early diagnosis treatment could start early in patients with joint disease entailing irreversible joint destruction.