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How Doctors Diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis

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If your doctor thinks you have rheumatoid arthritis, he will:

Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in the early stages helps you get the treatment you need as soon as possible.

RA symptoms may include:

  1. Morning stiffness in the joints for at least 1 hour.
  2. Swelling or fluid around three or more joints.
  3. At least one swollen area in the wrist, hand, or finger joints.
  4. Arthritis involving the same joint on both sides of the body (for instance, both wrists or both hips).
  5. Rheumatoid nodules, which are firm lumps in the skin of some people with rheumatoid arthritis. These nodules are usually in pressure points of the body, most commonly the elbows.
  6. Higher than normal levels of rheumatoid factor in the blood.
  7. X-ray changes in the hands and wrists typical of rheumatoid arthritis, with destruction of bone around the affected joints. These changes tend to happen later in the disease.

If you have any of the first four items on that list, you must have them for at least 6 weeks for your doctor to consider RA. Symptoms can come and go but usually don't.

It can be hard to diagnose RA, especially in the early stages. It has some things in common with other conditions, including:

Although you may not get an instant answer on whether you have RA, your doctor will take the time and follow through to find out for sure.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on January 13, 2015
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