Treatment with slow-acting anti-rheumatic drugs (SAARDs) is nowadays initiated earlier in the disease course, preferably before any radiographic damage has occurred. SAARDs have the ability to decrease inflammatory synovitis as measured by clinical and laboratory variables, and there is some evidence that they improve physical function and decrease the progression rate of joint damage in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis. There is a clear difference in survival time between the various SAARDs. The efficacy/toxicity profiles of the SAARDs show equal variation. Rank order of prescription or disease duration may have an effect on drug survival, but different treatment strategies are also important sources of variation. Efficacy might be improved by combining different SAARDs (starting with a multiple drug regimen, or adding a drug to the first one), but further research is necessary to prove this hypothesis.