Rheumatoid arthritis treatments and research have developed immensely in the last twenty years, but the classification of the disease had not changed since 1987. A joint effort of the American College of Rheumatology and the European League against Rheumatism began in 2008 to develop new classification criteria for the disease aimed at identifying it earlier.
Without a single criteria for classifying patients with early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, treatments designed to prevent joint damage and the progression of the disease do not have a common or accepted method of identifying risk and how far the disease had progressed for each patient.
The new classification criteria considers the amount of inflammation found in the patient’s joints, how many joints are affected, which joints are affected, how long symptoms have lasted and laboratory tests for auto-immunity and inflammation. These factors are used to give each patient a score between one and ten; scores of six or more are considered "definite RA."
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation to joints, which sometimes affects the spine and presents similar symptoms to osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis). Rheumatoid arthritis is more likely to be symptomatic in the cervical spine than the lumbar spine, and other joints are commonly already affected before the pain occurs in the spine from rheumatoid arthritis.