Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints and is associated with autoantibodies that target various molecules including modified self-epitopes. The identification of novel autoantibodies has improved diagnostic accuracy, and newly developed classification criteria facilitate the recognition and study of the disease early in its course. New clinical assessment tools are able to better characterize disease activity states, which are correlated with progression of damage and disability, and permit improved follow-up. In addition, better understanding of the pathogenesis of RA through recognition of key cells and cytokines has led to the development of targeted disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. Altogether, the improved understanding of the pathogenetic processes involved, rational use of established drugs and development of new drugs and reliable assessment tools have drastically altered the lives of individuals with RA over the past 2 decades. Current strategies strive for early referral, early diagnosis and early start of effective therapy aimed at remission or, at the least, low disease activity, with rapid adaptation of treatment if this target is not reached. This treat-to-target approach prevents progression of joint damage and optimizes physical functioning, work and social participation. In this Primer, we discuss the epidemiology, pathophysiology, diagnosis and management of RA.
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J.S.S. has received grant support from and/or provided expert advice to AbbVie, Amgen, AstraZeneca, BMS, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Celgene, Celltrion, Gilead, Glaxo, ILTOO, Janssen, Lilly, Pfizer, MSD, Roche, Samsung, Novartis-Sandoz and UCB. D.A. served as a consultant and/or speaker for AbbVie, AstraZeneca, BMS, Janssen, Medac, MSD, Pfizer, Roche and UCB and received grant support from BMS. A.B. received grants, speaker fees and/or consultancy fees from Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Celgene, Roche-Chugai and Boehringer-Ingelheim. G.R.B. received honoraria for consulting and lectures from AbbVie, BMS, MSD, Pfizer, UCB and Roche. P.E. has undertaken clinical trials and provided expert advice to Pfizer, MSD, AbbVie, BMS, UCB, Roche, Novartis, Samsung, Sandoz and Eli Lilly. G.S.F. has received grant funding from Janssen and Gilead. A.K. has served as a consultant and/or performed clinical research for AbbVie, Amgen, Celgene, Janssen, Novartis and UCB. I.B.M. has received grants, speaker fees and/or consultancy fees from BMS, AbbVie, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, GSK, Janssen, Novartis, Celgene, Roche-Chugai, UCB and Boehringer-Ingelheim. D.H.S. serves in unpaid roles on a clinical trial sponsored by Pfizer. V.S. has served as a consultant to AbbVie, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bayer, BMS, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Celltrion, Genentech/Roche, GSK, Janssen, Lilly, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Regeneron, Samsung, Sanofi and UCB and is a founding member of the executive of OMERACT (Outcome Measures in Rheumatology; 1992–present), an organization that develops and validates outcome measures in rheumatology randomized controlled trials and longitudinal observational studies and receives arm's-length funding from 36 sponsors. K.Y. received honoraria for consulting and lectures from AbbVie, AYUMI, BMS, Chugai, Eisai, Janssen, Ono, Pfizer, Tanabe-Mitsubishi and UCB.
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