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The main problems related to “early arthritis” are making an accurate diagnosis and predicting the outcome. Clinical evidence strongly suggest that structural damage occur early and that early DMARD treatment improves the long term outcome of disease. Clinical criteria would facilitate early referral of the patients to establish the risk of persistent disease. From the “early arthritis clinics” (E.A.C.) experience has been developed a set of diagnostic criteria characterized by an excellent ability to discriminate, at the first visit, between self-limiting, persistent non-erosive and persistent erosive arthritis. The proposed set consists of 7 criteria: symptom duration (6 weeks – 6 months), morning stiffness of at least 1 hour, arthritis in ≥ 3 joints, bilateral compression pain in the metatarsophalangeal joints, IgM-rheumatoid factor positivity, anti-cyclic-citrullinated-peptide antibody positivity and erosions on radiographs of the hands or feet. This approach requests an easy organization to simplify the access to sanitary services and represents an hard challenge both for rheumatologist and health administration.
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