A rheumatoid arhtirtis diagnosis is rheumatoid arthritis examination on several criteria including physical symptoms, family and medical history, and blood and other diagnostic tests. The rheumatologist will work with the patient and the patient’s primary care physician to reach a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis and provide treatment.
To reach a diagnosis, physicians follow a set procedure looking for multiple criteria, rather than one individual test. This includes examining physical symptoms, looking at family and medical history, and performing blood and other diagnostic tests. Some cases may be easier to diagnose than others, especially in the early stages of developing symptoms when symptoms may be less clear. Doctors work hard to ensure they’ve looked at all possibilities and that their examination and testing results are consistent with most cases of rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis has a clear set of early signs and symptoms that lead doctors to consider it as a diagnosis. If these symptoms have been a concern for more than six consecutive weeks, doctors may consider these as symptoms specific to rheumatoid arthritis as opposed to other types of arthritis, like osteoarthritis. Doctors may also look for and ask about symptoms like fatigue, low-grade fever, loss of appetite, and even feelings of depression and malaise.
A full physical examination helps doctors find these symptoms and look at joints for tenderness, swelling, soreness, warmth, and redness. They ask about difficulties moving joints and decreases in range of motion. Symptoms may come and go but typically, they do not. The patient’s medical history and family history are important factors in helping to reach a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. However, if there is a family history of the disease, the risk of another family member developing rheumatoid arthritis increases. Therefore, genetics are a contributing factor in addition to other factors. Depending on each patient’s unique set of answers, it can help doctors identify factors that lead to a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.
One of the most important and helpful criteria in reaching a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis is the blood test to identify a specific set of antibodies that are known triggers of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. There are multiple blood tests that can be performed in the diagnosis process. Rheumatoid factor is a type of antibody found in the majority of rheumatoid arthritis patients. If a patient tests positive for rheumatoid factor it helps to reach a diagnosis, but its presence doesn’t confirm it. Many patients with other autoimmune disorders and inflammatory conditions test positive for rheumatoid factor but don’t have rheumatoid arthritis.
Because rheumatoid factor isn’t a guarantee of developing rheumatoid arthritis, doctors now test for the presence of another antibody, anti-CCP. If a patient tests positive for anti-CCP this is a strong indicator of rheumatoid arthritis. However, the anti-CCP antibodies can exist in a person’s system long before they ever exhibit symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. ESR and CRP are tests that doctors use to measure the level of inflammation in a patient’s joints. If a person indicates a certain level of inflammation and exhibits symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, this becomes another very strong indicator of a possible rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. When a patient has strong and clear symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, a doctor may also order a series of imaging scans. These include x-rays, MRI’s, and possibly ultrasounds.