The UK's health watchdog is to publish guidelines helping care providers deliver a consistent approach to treating rheumatoid arthritis throughout England and Wales.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) advice focuses on early diagnosis and treatment, as well as the prescription of anti-rheumatic drugs and delivery of physiotherapy and other support.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) attacks the joints, particularly in the hands and feet, and affects 400,000 sufferers across the UK.
NICE guidelines director, Dr Fergus Macbeth, said the advice was intended to help sufferers manage their condition, adding: "Rheumatoid arthritis can be a debilitating condition causing severe pain and limiting the ability to do everyday tasks.
"This new guideline incorporates a suite of previous NICE technology appraisals on drug treatment, so 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 calls for anyone with suspected symptoms to be referred to a specialist, with newly diagnosed patients offered anti-rheumatic drugs as quickly as possible.
Sufferers should also learn exercises for enhancing joint flexibility and muscle strength through visits to specialist physiotherapy, with intermittent reviews to improve general fitness.