Most people presenting with rheumatoid arthritis today can expect to achieve disease suppression, can avoid or substantially delay joint damage and deformities, and can maintain a good quality of life. Optimal management requires early diagnosis and treatment, usually with combinations of conventional disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). If these do not effect remission, biological DMARDs may be beneficial. Lack of recognition of the early signs of rheumatoid arthritis, ignorance of the benefits of early application of modern treatment regimens, and avoidable delays in securing specialist appointments may hinder achievement of best outcomes for many patients. Triage for recognising possible early rheumatoid arthritis must begin in primary care settings with the following pattern of presentation as a guide: involvement of three or more joints; early-morning joint stiffness of greater than 30 minutes; or bilateral squeeze tenderness at metacarpophalangeal or metatarsophalangeal joints.