Could this be RA?
Do I have Rheumatoid Arthritis? This is a complicated question. Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis can be a clumsy business. There is no one test to easily verify an RA diagnosis. The information on this page is an attempt to make this complicated issue as simple as possible. However, it cannot cover every aspect of RA diagnosis.
How do I know whether I have Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis has an extensive list of possible symptoms. There is not a typical “first” symptom which appears. For many, the first symptoms of RA are not even joint symptoms. Here is a list of some of the first symptoms of RA that have been reported by patients. Here is another broad list of possible symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis generally.
What doctors are looking for is a collection of symptoms or pieces of evidence which point to Rheumatoid Arthritis. They make an RA diagnosis according to guidelines recommended by professional organizations such as the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the European League of Rheumatism (EULAR). In October 2009, the guidelines used by ACR and EULAR were updated. The previous guidelines, published in 1987 are still used by many doctors in various countries.
Frequently, Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms include sharp pains which may migrate through various joints or settle into a particular joint. There may be swelling, stiffness, redness, or weakness associated with the pain. More often than not, the joint attacks are symmetrical. Flu-like fatigue, low-grade fever (about one degree above normal), and a loss of appetite are also common.
- American College of Rheumatology Redefines Rheumatoid Arthritis, part 1
- New Criteria for Rheumatoid Arthritis
- How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed, part 1
- What Is the First Symptom of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
- RA 101: Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
What tests should be run to diagnose RA?
About 70 percent of people who are diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis have a positive Rheumatoid factor. This means that a blood test shows the presence of certain antibodies in the blood which a majority of RA patients have. However, at least 30 percent of RA patients do not have a positive Rheumatoid factor. It’s also interesting that about ten percent of the general population can show a positive Rheumatoid factor antibody with various other explanations. So, even if the test is positive, that is not definitive.
Another antibody measured by a blood test, the anti-CCP (anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide), is more specific to Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is important to run this test if RA is suspected. About 95 to 98 percent of people who have a positive result with this test are diagnosed with RA . And the false positive rate is lower.
There are other more complicated or invasive methods to test for the presence of Rheumatoid Arthritis activity in the body. This includes various scans or the extraction or examination of tissue. Sometimes, doctors even identify RA with their own eyes during surgery, but that is not a preferred method of diagnosis.
- Is There a Blood Test for Rheumatoid Arthritis? part 1
- Blood Tests for Rheumatoid Arthritis, part 2
- Ultrasound for Rheumatoid Arthritis, part 1
Get thyself to an RA specialist ASAP
Of course, an RA diagnosis must be made by a medical doctor. Unfortunately, a general practitioner or family care physician may not be knowledgeable enough to diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis. A Rheumatoid Arthritis specialist or a rheumatologist is best equipped to diagnose and treat RA because it is so complicated.
Some doctors consider suspected RA diagnosis to be an emergency. Think about this: There is no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis and early treatment is considered the best hope for avoiding a severe disease course or achieving remission. The time between onset of symptoms and disease treatment ranges from a few months to several years. If you have an opportunity to be a lucky one who is in the shorter end of this continuum, I hope you will.
- 21 Things to Know about Finding a New Rheumatologist
- An Uncommon Chat with a Rheumatoid Arthritis Specialist, part 1
- My laughable first visit to a rheumatologist: It’s Ok to Laugh if You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis
What else could the diagnosis be if I do not have Rheumatoid Arthritis?
This may be the next question after asking, “Do I have Rheumatoid Arthritis?” There are some other diagnoses which can mimic Rheumatoid Arthritis onset. It is possible for RA symptoms to flare and remit over a period of years without causing detectable damage. This is sometimes referred to as Palindromic Rheumatism or Palindromic RA. Some of these patients eventually are diagnosed with RA.
Parvovirus b-19 or “Fifth disease” symptoms are similar to Rheumatoid Arthritis. Parvovirus symptoms can last for months in rare cases. However, Parvovirus almost always resolves on its own. The symptoms are treated for the comfort of the patient, but there is no need for disease treatment in most cases.
There is a group of autoimmune arthritis diseases which are called “spondyloarthropathies.” They include Psoriatic Arthritis, Reactive Arthritis, and Ankylosing Spondylitis, and some forms of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Although outward symptoms may be similar, spondyloarthropathies attack the body differently than Rheumatoid Arthritis. Blood tests and DNA tests can be used to help distinguish them from RA.
- For your convenience, here is a link to the disclaimer for this website.
- Palindromic Rheumatism Is Not a Rare Form of Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Parvovirus b-19 and Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Psoriatic Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
- How does Reactive Arthritis compare to Rheumatoid Arthritis?