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What Are the Stages of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

1 answer | Last updated: Jul 22, 2014
Caring.com User - Leslie Kernisan, M.D.
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Dr. Leslie Kernisan is a senior medical editor at Caring.com and a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics....
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The stages of rheumatoid arthritis -- sometimes called RA -- are defined by the 2008 recommendations of the American College of Rheumatology as the following:

See also:
Inflammation in the Body

See all 82 questions about Arthritis
  • Early disease: Symptoms of active rheumatoid arthritis for fewer than 6 months

  • Intermediate disease: Symptoms of active rheumatoid arthritis for 6 to 24 months

  • Longer disease: Symptoms of active rheumatoid arthritis for more than 24 months

Note that these stages are meant to be applied to rheumatoid arthritis patients who haven't been treated with disease-modifying antirheumatic agents (DMARDs).

Rheumatoid arthritis is also usually given an "activity" rating of mild, moderate, or severe, corresponding to a patient's current level of inflammation.

To assess rheumatoid arthritis activity, the doctor will consider the following factors:

  • The patient's report of symptoms and their impact on day-to-day function

  • The doctor's assessment of how many joints are involved, how badly the joints are affected, and whether any non-joint symptoms are present

  • The level of inflammation as measured by blood work

  • Inflammation and joint damage as measured by X-rays

Doctors use the current stage and activity of a patient's rheumatoid arthritis to determine what type of medication to prescribe.

There are also some patients who've had rheumatoid arthritis for a long time and have had their joints badly damaged over the years. These patients, who may now have low levels of inflammation, are sometimes referred to as being in "end-stage" rheumatoid arthritis. (Note that end-stage rheumatoid arthritis is not a terminal disease; it's just an advanced stage that not everyone develops.)


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