What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
How Do Doctors Diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis?
There is no single test that shows whether you have RA. Your doctor will give you a checkup, ask you about your symptoms, and possibly perform X-rays and blood tests.
Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed from a combination of things, including:
- The location and symmetry of painful joints, especially the hand joints
- Joint stiffness in the morning
- Bumps and nodules under the skin (rheumatoid nodules)
- Results of X-ray and blood tests
Most, but not all, people with rheumatoid arthritis have the rheumatoid-factor (RF) antibody in their blood. Rheumatoid factor may sometimes be present in people who do not have rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is based on a combination of joint problems, as well as test results.
A newer, more specific blood test for rheumatoid arthritis is the cyclic citrulline antibody test, also called anti-CCP. The presence of anti-CCP antibodies suggests a tendency toward a more aggressive form of rheumatoid arthritis.
People with rheumatoid arthritis may have mild anemia. Blood tests may also show an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which are signs of inflammation.
Some people with rheumatoid arthritis may also have a positive antinuclear antibody test (ANA), which indicates an autoimmune disease, but the test cannot tell which autoimmune disease.
How Is RA Treated?
Treatments include medications, rest and exercise, and, in some cases, surgery to correct joint damage.
Your treatment will depend on several things, including your age, overall health, medical history, and how severe your case is.
Many rheumatoid arthritis medications can lower joint pain, swelling, and inflammation. Some of these drugs prevent or slow down the disease.
Drugs that ease joint pain, stiffness, and swelling include:
There are also many strong medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which work by interfering with or suppressing the immune system's attack on the joints. They include:
- Plaquenil (originally used to treat malaria)
- Immune suppression drugs, such as methotrexate, Imuran, and Cytoxan
- Biologic treatments, such as Actemra, Cimzia, Kineret, Simponi, Enbrel, Humira, Remicade, Orencia, and Rituxan
- Other drugs, such as Azulfidine, Arava, and Xeljanz