What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Autoimmune diseases are conditions occurring when the body’s tissues are mistakenly attacked by their own immune system. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, several joints and organs can be affected.
Why is Rheumatoid Arthritis Difficult to Diagnose?
Since several diseases may look like rheumatoid arthritis, an exact diagnosis can be difficult to come by. The average time between the onset of symptoms and an official rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis can take an average of nine months. Osteoarthritis, gout, fibromyalgia, lupus, and joint inflammation due to infection are just a few conditions that mimic the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, making testing to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis difficult.
What are Some Benchmarks Used to Diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis?
There are some common benchmarks used to test and diagnose for rheumatoid arthritis. The American College of Rheumatology uses the following list to help in coming to a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. If four or more of any of the items on this list are present for at least six weeks, doctors will usually give a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.
- Experiencing morning stiffness in the joints for one or more hours.
- Swelling or any fluid build-up around three or more joints in the body at the same time.
- Any swelling in the areas around the wrist or finger joints may be indicative of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Arthritis pain associated with the same joints on both sides of the body.
- Rheumatoid nodules under the skin found in pressure points of the body. These are most commonly found around the elbows.
- Blood tests indicating increased amounts of the rheumatoid factor in the blood.
- X-rays showing abnormal changes around the joints involved with pain or swelling.
How Will My Doctor Test for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
If your doctor suspects that you have rheumatoid arthritis, he or she will conduct a series of tests to either diagnose it or rule it out. You can expect a thorough exam and health history, noting the frequency, severity and time of the day you experience your symptoms. A physical examination will be done to look at your joints for signs of swelling or damage. Lab tests and x-rays will be ordered to detect inflammation in the blood or joint fluid.
Blood Tests to Diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis
A rheumatoid factor test is a commonly ordered blood test to help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. This test measures the rheumatoid factor, which is an antibody in the blood that is present in as many as 70 to 80 percent of all patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This test is not always an indicator of rheumatoid arthritis, as it can be present or elevated in patients with other types of autoimmune diseases.
There is a new blood test for rheumatoid arthritis, which measures the levels of antibodies that bond citrulline modified proteins. This testing to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis is more specific than the rheumatoid factor test, as it only appears elevated in patients with rheumatoid arthritis or who are about to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
When testing to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, there might not be definitive answers upfront. If rheumatoid arthritis is suspected, it is recommended to be closely followed by your physician for proper monitoring.
WebMD: "Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis": www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/guide/diagnosing-ra
Medicine Net: "Rheumatoid Arthritis": https://www.medicinenet.com/rheumatoid_arthritis/page3.htm