Objective: Early arthritis patients referred to an Early Arthritis Clinic (EAC) (n = 233) were compared to 241 patients from the routine out-patient clinic with respect to lag time between the onset of symptoms and the visit to the rheumatologist, clinical presentation and the consistency of the diagnosis after 1 yr.
Results: The reduction in median lag time for the EAC patients was at least 3 months. An insidious onset of symptoms was found more often in the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients in the routine clinic. In 70% of all cases, a diagnosis could be made after 2 weeks and, if the clinical diagnosis was definite RA, this hardly changed during the following year. Early erosions were seen in 25% of RA patients and were associated with a positive rheumatoid factor (OR 2.08, 95% CI 0.95 4.59).
Conclusion: An early diagnosis of RA at the EAC is possible and reliable; the high frequency of erosions illustrates the need for early treatment.