Frequently Asked Questions
4. How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?
Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages because the full range of symptoms develops over time, and only a few symptoms may be present in the early stages.
As part of the diagnosis, your doctor will look for symptoms such as swelling, warmth, pain, and limitations in joint motion throughout your body. Your doctor may ask you questions about the intensity of your pain symptoms, how often they occur, and what makes the pain better or worse.
There is no single, definitive test for rheumatoid arthritis. One common test is for rheumatoid factor, an antibody that is eventually present in the blood of most rheumatoid arthritis patients. An antibody is a special protein made by the immune system that normally helps fight foreign substances in the body. Not all people with rheumatoid arthritis test positive for rheumatoid factor, however, especially early in the disease.
Another test is the citrulline antibody test. Other common tests include one called the erythrocyte sedimentation rate that helps to identify the presence of inflammation in the body, a white blood cell count, and a blood test for anemia.
X-rays are often used to determine the degree of joint destruction. They are not useful in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis before bone damage is evident, but they can be used later to monitor the progression of the disease.