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Sensitivity and specificity of the American College of Rheumatology 1987 criteria for the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis according to disease duration: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis
  1. F Banal1,
  2. M Dougados1,
  3. C Combescure2,3,
  4. L Gossec1,2
  1. 1
    Paris Descartes University, Medicine Faculty; Rheumatology B Department, Cochin Hospital, Paris, France
  2. 2
    Division of Medical Information, University Hospital of Nìmes, Nìmes, France
  3. 3
    Division of Clinical Epidemiology and Centre of Clinical Research, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
  1. Dr F Banal, Rhumatologie B, Hôpital Cochin, 27 rue du Faubourg Saint-Jacques, 75014 Paris, France; frederic.banal{at}


Objective: To evaluate the ability of the widely used ACR set of criteria (both list and tree format) to diagnose RA compared with expert opinion according to disease duration.

Methods: A systematic literature review was conducted in PubMed and Embase databases. All articles reporting the prevalence of RA according to ACR criteria and expert opinion in cohorts of early (<1 year duration) or established (>1 year) arthritis were analysed to calculate the sensitivity and specificity of ACR 1987 criteria against the “gold standard” (expert opinion). A meta-analysis using a summary receiver operating characteristic (SROC) curve was performed and pooled sensitivity and specificity were calculated with confidence intervals.

Results: Of 138 publications initially identified, 19 were analysable (total 7438 patients, 3883 RA). In early arthritis, pooled sensitivity and specificity of the ACR set of criteria were 77% (68% to 84%) and 77% (68% to 84%) in the list format versus 80% (72% to 88%) and 33% (24% to 43%) in the tree format. In established arthritis, sensitivity and specificity were respectively 79% (71% to 85%) and 90% (84% to 94%) versus 80% (71% to 85%) and 93% (86% to 97%). The SROC meta-analysis confirmed the statistically significant differences, suggesting that diagnostic performances of ACR list criteria are better in established arthritis.

Conclusion: The specificity of ACR 1987 criteria in early RA is low, and these criteria should not be used as diagnostic tools. Sensitivity and specificity in established RA are higher, which reflects their use as classification criteria gold standard.

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  • Competing interests: None.

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