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The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis has moved up the agenda of NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which controls what drugs are made available across the NHS.
Guidance for England and Wales to be published on Wednesday concentrates on early diagnosis and treatment, and is intended to help sufferers manage their condition.
NICE guidelines director Dr Fergus Macbeth said: “This new guideline incorporates a suite of previous NICE technology appraisals on drug treatment.
“These, together with the new guideline recommendations, will enable health professionals to provide the best care for adults with RA to help reduce the impact of the condition on patients’ everyday lives.”
The guidance says that referral for specialist treatment should be urgent if the small joints of the hands or feet are affected, or the patient has suffered symptoms for three months or longer.
New patients should be offered anti-rheumatic drugs as a first-line treatment regime as soon as possible, and have access to specialist physiotherapy to improve joint flexibility and muscle strength.
Copyright Press Association 2009