Thirty-three patients with early arthritis, 28 of whom developed classical/definite rheumatoid arthritis (RA), were followed up for two to four years. Rheumatoid factor (RF) levels of the IgM, IgA, and IgG isotypes were measured in serum and synovial fluid by an ELISA technique developed in our laboratory. All seven patients who presented with raised IgA RF developed erosions of their hands and wrists. This was significantly different from the remaining 26. By contrast none of the five patients who presented with isolated elevation of IgM RF developed erosive disease. The patients with raised IgA RF needed significantly more treatment with 'specific' drugs than the remaining 26. It is suggested that the detection of IgA RF in early RA indicates poor prognosis, justifying a more aggressive treatment at an early stage.
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