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The Need for Speed

An appointment with a rheumatologist within 6 weeks of symptom onset can benefit a patient with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), according to data published in The Lancet Rheumatology.

“The European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) recommendations for the management of early arthritis state that patients presenting with arthritis should be referred to, and seen by, a rheumatologist within 6 weeks after the onset of symptoms,” Ellis Niemantsverdriet, PhD, of Leiden University Medical Center, in the Netherlands, and colleagues wrote.

The research team added: “Although it is known that visiting a rheumatologist within 12 weeks of symptom onset is associated with less radiographic progression and a higher chance of achieving drug-free remission, there is currently no evidence that an initial visit within 6 weeks leads to improved long-term outcomes compared with an initial visit between 7 and 12 weeks.”

The data indicates that visiting a rheumatologist within 6 weeks of symptom onset can benefit a patient with rheumatoid arthritis in achieving sustained, DMARD-free remission, but in slowing progression.

Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs) are a group of medications commonly used in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Some of these drugs are also used in treating other conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus. They work to decrease pain and inflammation, to reduce or prevent joint damage, and to preserve the structure and function of the joints.

Like the European study noted above, the percentage of patients seen in the U.S. within 12 weeks is on the low side, it often takes much longer especially outside major cities.