Jan. 28, 2010 - Elevated levels of inflammatory proteins called cytokines
and related factors in the blood may be an early warning sign of impending rheumatoid arthritis (RA),
according to a new study.
Researchers have found that levels of certain cytokines and related factors
in the blood increase significantly prior to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, long before symptoms emerge. They say the
finding paves the way for developing a blood test for early diagnosis of the
"Our findings present an opportunity for better predicting the risk of
developing RA and possibly preventing disease progression," says researcher
Solbritt Rantapää-Dahlqvist, MD, of University Hospital in Umea, Sweden, in a
Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful, progressive condition that can be
difficult to diagnose in the early stages because it often begins with only
subtle symptoms, such as achy joints or early morning stiffness. Other
conditions, such as lupus, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia may also mimic the early symptoms of
rheumatoid arthritis, which makes a definitive diagnosis difficult.
But studies have shown that early diagnosis and treatment of rheumatoid
arthritis can help sufferers live a more active life and potentially avoid the
type of joint
damage that leads to disability.
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not understood, but various components
of the immune system and synovial tissue, which lubricates the joints, are
thought to be involved.
Cytokines are pro-inflammatory proteins that are often found in the synovial
tissue after rheumatoid arthritis has developed.
In the study, published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, researchers
examined whether particular cytokines and related factors are elevated prior to
the emergence of rheumatoid arthritis
They analyzed blood samples from 86 people in Sweden without symptoms of
rheumatoid arthritis at the time of donation who later developed RA and
compared them with samples from 256 healthy individuals.
The results showed levels of several cytokines and related factors were
elevated up to years before diagnosis with rheumatoid arthritis.
Researchers say the findings support the idea that the immune system was
already stimulated and rheumatoid arthritis was developing. If further studies
confirm these results, a blood test to screen for these elevated cytokines may
help diagnose RA before symptoms emerge.