The Importance of Early RA Diagnosis

The Importance of Early RA Diagnosis

By Kelly O'Neill Young, RPF Founder & President

I’ve been a passionate advocate of early RA diagnosis for over a decade. One of the first articles I wrote for a medical website urged doctors to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis (RA) / rheumatoid disease (RD) earlier by looking outside of the proverbial box of arthritis in the hands. Why was I so convinced about the importance of early RA diagnosis?

As we mark the 7th Rheumatoid Awareness Day, February 2, it’s important to remember why early diagnosis is key to the mission of RPF—improving the lives of  (PRD) living with RD. That’s why RPF is excited to partner with imaware™, a new at-home test for RA.

3 Reasons to promote early RA diagnosis


I learned first hand that treatments for RD are often ineffective or less effective than we need. As one medication after another failed me, the academic research taught me that the medicines can work better if they are used earlier. And unfortunately, I learned from your many stories that I’m not the only one whose RD just kept progressing—like it didn’t care what medication I tried.

However, to treat RD earlier, it has to be diagnosed earlier. That’s why a new at-home test for RA is so exciting.

One reason Rheumatoid Awareness Day is February 2 is that it’s Groundhog Day—the six-week window for winter ending is to remind us of the six-week treatment opportunity window investigators find in RD. British medical officials have called RA diagnosis a medical emergency to try to get people in to see rheumatologists more quickly.


I’ve learned so much reading thousands of your RD stories, alongside of academic research, all the while living with the daily progression of the same disease. But nothing has settled this matter in my mind like watching my older daughter suffer symptoms that I know are early RD. Randomly painful or swollen joints pop-up like popcorn.

If she can be diagnosed early in the disease process, she can preserve function; she can preserve productivity—and a normal life span. But we can see in her the same thing I learned from all of your stories—and my own RD—that the current rheumatology model often waits for obvious persistent swelling in the hands.

Imagine if cancer doctors still waited until an organ lost function or a person looked sick to screen for cancer and treat early. We need to update the disease model for RA / RD and begin to screen for it in its early stages—like with cancers.


As I wrote in my book, diagnosing and treating RD much earlier is our “cure” for now. Research will eventually lead us to ways to stop the disease at any stage. My younger daughter works in a lab every day trying to gain better understanding of how immune-mediated diseases like RD work. No doubt there will be other cures on the horizon, but we must use the tools we have now for earlier diagnosis and conscientious aggressive treatment.

Over the years and in my recent book, I’ve advocated passionately and written extensively about studies to prevent full-blown RD. These studies screen first-degree relatives of PRD. As investigators learn from this, RPF will promote more widespread screening of this type. Indeed the value of early RA diagnosis is perfectly clear when we look into the eyes of our beautiful children and grandchildren. They do share our genes that could lead to RD—but they don’t need to share our suffering. We will continue to advocate forcefully for a more accurate disease model for RD. And this is why RPF is glad to partner with imaware™, an at-home RA test.

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