Dr. Ruderman explains how rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed.
Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed first and foremost by a careful examination and a history. So again, arthritis involving many joints, inflammation of many joints, an exam that shows swelling, typically warmth, tenderness of multiple joints in a pattern and it involves hands, wrist, feet, is very typical of rheumatoid arthritis.
To confirm that, there are some blood tests that are helpful. There’s a test called the rheumatoid factor, which measures an antibody that shows up in people with rheumatoid arthritis. It is not a very specific test so it can show up in other symptoms and other diseases but in the right setting, with someone with the right set of symptoms it can be very indicative of rheumatoid arthritis.
There is another antibody that has been used in the last few years called an anti-CCP antibody. It actually is a bit more specific and when that is present and though it is not there in everybody with rheumatoid arthritis, it is a fairly specific test for the presence of rheumatoid arthritis.
Finally, X-rays can be very helpful. There are specific X-ray changes, damage to the cartilage in the bone in a certain pattern that are very indicative of rheumatoid arthritis. However, I would say that currently most of the efforts of treating rheumatoid arthritis are aimed at treating people before they develop X-ray changes. And so if you wait until the X-rays have gotten to the point where there is damage showing up that looks like rheumatoid arthritis, we currently feel that they actually have waited too long to treat the disease.
About Dr. Ruderman, M.D.:
Dr. Eric M. Ruderman, M.D., is associate professor in the division of rheumatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a board member of the Arthritis Foundation of Greater Chicago.
Dr. Ruderman graduated from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, New York. He completed his residence at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and his fellowship training in rheumatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.