New Studies Show Importance of Early RA Diagnosis

Rheumatoid arthritis is all over the news this week, and while it’s one of our most treated chronic conditions here at The Pain Center of Arizona, new studies and results are always of interest to us as well as our patients. The two studies that stand out this week deal with the relationship between smoking and RA, and the effectiveness of early diagnosis.


Early assessment of rheumatoid arthritis can reduce the amount of joint damage and improve the likelihood of disease remission without having to take disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, known as DMARDs, new research indicates.


The study, which lasted six years, showed that 12 weeks seem to be the magic number for rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. According to, patients who were seen by a rheumatologist 12 or more weeks after RA symptoms began had a joint destruction rate 1.3 times higher than patients assessed within 12 weeks.


The study is published in the December issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.


“Early treatment intervention dramatically improves clinical outcomes in patients with RA,” Dr. Michael van der Linden, of the Leiden University Medical Center, said in a news release from the journal’s publisher. “Our study presents the first evidence that RA patients who have a delay longer than 12 weeks between first symptoms and visiting a rheumatologist have a higher rate of joint destruction and lower chance of achieving a sustained DMARD-free remission.”


The findings “highlight the importance of reducing the delay in assessment by a rheumatologist and further studies could test whether accelerated treatment leads to improved disease outcomes in RA,” van der Linden concluded.


Early diagnosis is key in many chronic conditions that we treat here at The Pain Center, and while your family physician might have the right intentions, many times he or she just doesn’t have the right tools to accurately diagnose chronic pain symptoms. Rheumatoid arthritis, along with CRPS and fibromyalgia often go misdiagnosed for far too long before patients seek out a pain doctor, and as this study points out, the longer it takes for conditions to get accurately diagnosed, the worse the outcome.