Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Diagnosis


RA is a problem with your immune system. If you don’t diagnose and treat it in time, it could harm your joints. Most people with RA do have some sort of joint damage. Most of it happens in the first 2 years. Your regular doctor may order blood tests and X-rays to help confirm a diagnosis. Or you may be sent to someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating RA. This type of doctor is called a rheumatologist. Sometimes, RA can be tough to figure out. Symptoms may come and go, and they aren’t the same in all people who have it. But doctors look for specific things:

  • Joint pain/swelling/stiffness, especially in small joints like your wrists, hands, or feet
  • Discomfort for at least 6 weeks
  • Morning stiffness that lasts at least 30 minutes
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

There isn’t a single test that gives doctors a clear answer. And in the early stages, RA can resemble other diseases like:

  • Lupus
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Lyme arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis

That’s why your doctor will rely on many things to help pinpoint the cause of your pain and other symptoms.

Personal and family medical history: Your doctor will ask about your past and your relatives’. If someone in your family tree has RA, you may be more likely to have the disease.

Physical exam: The doctor will check your joints for swelling, tenderness, and range of motion. RA tends to strike several joints.

Antibody blood tests: Doctors look for certain proteins that show up in your blood when you have RA. These proteins mistakenly target healthy cells and kick off the inflammation process. So a high or positive test result means inflammation is in your body.

Other blood tests: Besides RF and anti-CCP, other blood tests could include:

Complete blood count: It helps your doctor find anaemia (low red blood cells), which is common in RA. It looks for four things:

  • White blood cells 4.8-10.8
  • Red blood cells 4.7-6.1
  • Hemoglobin 14.0-18.0
  • Hematocrit 42-52
  • Platelets 150-450

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate: This measures how fast your red blood cells clump and fall to the bottom of a glass tube within an hour. Your doctor might call it a sed rate.

  • Men younger than 50: 0-15 mm/h 
  • Men older than 50: 0-20 mm/h
  • Women younger than 50: 0-20 mm/h
  • Women older than 50: 0-30 mm/h 

Treatment: Don’t panic if you learn you have rheumatoid arthritis. While there is no cure, people are living better now with RA than ever before. Your doctor will talk to you about all the ways you can treat the disease and manage your symptoms.

Medicines: There are several types: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and disease-modifying drugs.