A significant amount of joint damage can occur during the first two years of rheumatoid disease activity, so early diagnosis and treatment can significantly affect a patient’s prognosis. However, diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis can be very challenging, because:
- There is no single physical exam or lab test to decisively diagnose RA.
- RA symptoms often mimic those of other diseases, such as lupus, systemic sclerosis, psoriatic arthritis and polymyalgia rheumatica. (Also, an RA-like illness can occur after many viral infections, particularly parovirus infections.)
Because of these challenges, experts recommend that a diagnostic evaluation be performed by a rheumatologist or a physician who has extensive experience with rheumatologic diseases.