Tests for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that causes pain, stiffness, inflammation, loss of mobility, and erosion in the joints. This chronic autoimmune disease affects your multiple joints symmetrically, and usually hurts your wrists and hands first – it then affects your neck, elbows, knees, shoulders, feet, and hips. There are tests for rheumatoid arthritis, but your doctor may also get an idea by considering other symptoms, such as the development of nodules under the skin, fever, fatigue, and an overall feeling of being unwell.

Different Tests for Rheumatoid Arthritis

There is no specific test to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, but your doctor can order different types of teststhat checkfor different abnormalities in body. For instance:

1. Blood Tests

Your doctor may order blood tests to detect immune system changes in your body. Some blood tests will look for antibodies that attack the joints, while others rely on measuring inflammation in your body. The most common tests include the following:

  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR): A lab assistant takes a sample of your red blood cells, which are then placed into a test tube of liquid. They note the time these cells take to fall to the bottom of the tube. You may have an inflammatory condition if the cells sink faster than usual. It happens because the proteins that cause inflammation make the red blood cells to stick together and fall to the bottom of the tube quicker. You have inflammation if your results show a faster sedimentation rate.
  • C-reactive protein (CRP): Your liver produces CRP, and a CRP test helps confirm that there is inflammation in your body.
  • Full blood count: Your doctor may order the full blood count to ensure you have enough red blood cells and do not have anemia, a condition in which the blood fails to carry enough oxygen. People with rheumatoid arthritis usually develop anemia as well. Similarly, low hemocrit and hemoglobin may also indicate rheumatoid arthritis.

2. Imaging Tests

Does there have any other tests for rheumatoid arthritis? Except for blood tests, your doctor may also recommend imaging tests.

  • X-rays: Joint x-rays are able to help confirm if you have RA. They may only demonstrate a bit of swelling of soft tissues in the beginning, but they may show bony erosions as the disease progresses. Your doctor may order joint x-rays from time to time to monitor the progression of disease. A procedure called bone scanning is often used to identify the inflamed joints.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): If your doctor notices some irregularities in x-rays, they may order MRIs to take a clearer picture of the inside of your body. They prove beneficial when it is important to check the inflammation of the synovium, which is the membrane around the joints. The immune system attacks this membrane first when you have rheumatoid arthritis.

Signs That Indicate Rheumatoid Arthritis

Even with tests for rheumatoid arthritis,it sometimes becomes difficult to confirm whether you have rheumatoid arthritis. This is the time when your doctor will look for other signs of disease in your body. You should talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms.

  • You may notice stiffness in the joints, especially after waking up in the morning.
  • You may have swollen painful joint with joints becoming soft and boggy due to an inflamed joint membrane.
  • You may notice fluid in your joints.
  • You may have flu-like symptoms with fatigue and fever.
  • You will notice rapid loss of function and find it difficult to fasten bra straps and buttons.

Other Conditions Confused with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Sometimes, you have symptoms similar to what you experience when you have rheumatoid arthritis, but the underlying cause is usually different. For instance:

  • Fibromyalgia: Your symptoms may be due to fibromyalgia and not due to rheumatoid arthritis. You experience pain in all your joints as well as muscles and have multiple tender points in the body. You may also have poor sleep and notice a degree of early morning stiffness. Irritable bowels, headaches, and mood swings are also common signs of fibromyalgia.
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR): You develop pain and stiffness in your thighs and shoulders due to this condition. It usually affects people over 65 years of age.
  • Post-viral arthritis: You may develop acute, self-limiting arthritis after viral illnesses, such as influenza. You may have severe pain in your wrists, ankles, and knees with swelling and tenderness. It usually takes several weeks or months to resolve completely.
  • Osteoarthritis: It often affects your hands and is more common in women after menopause. You will have small lumps in your hands on the sides of your finger joints. It also affects the base of the thumb. Even though your hands may look unsightly due to nodes, you can still use your hands properly.

Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

After undergoing tests for rheumatoid arthritis,you may have to follow specific therapies to improve your condition.

1. Medications

Your doctor may prescribe drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis, but these drugs usually have serious side effects. Here are some options:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: You can take OTC pain relievers such as naproxen and ibuprofen.
  • Steroids: You may have to take corticosteroid medications to reduce pain and inflammation. These medications may also help slow joint damage, but still provide side effects such as weight gain, thinning of bones, and diabetes.
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs: Your doctor may prescribe these drugs to slow the progression of RA and protect your tissues from permanent damage. Arava, Trexall, Azulfidine, and Plaquenil are some of the most common drugs in this category.


2. Surgeries

In severe cases, you may not notice any improvement in your symptoms with medications. This is the time when your doctor may recommend rheumatoid arthritis surgery. You may be fit for one of the following:

  • Total joint replacement: The procedure involves removing any damaged part of your joint and replacing it with a prosthesis made of plastic and metal.
  • Tendon repair: The procedure involves repairing the tendons that may have been ruptured due to joint damage and inflammation.
  • Joint fusion: This surgical procedure involves fusing a joint to provide support to a joint. This helps relieve pain a bit.
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