Are your joints hurting? Has it been for over 6 weeks? Worried it is Rheumatism? Let’s find out.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is difficult to diagnose. Especially in the initial stages as the symptoms are also common to other diseases such as Osteoarthritis, Lupus and Fibromyalgia. When you visit your physician/doctor, the first thing he would probably do is to ask you to describe your symptoms. Questions include the onset – when does it strike, the pattern, the start and the severity. Sometimes, patients only convey symptoms that they think are relevant, but it is important to convey all your symptoms to your doctor so as to facilitate an accurate diagnosis.
Five Most Common Symptoms to Look For
- Morning stiffness in your joints that last for at least an hour from the moment you wake up
- Having 3 or more joints that are swollen and aching
- Bilateral arthritis – similar aching joints on both sides of the body, for example, both wrists or both ankles
- One, or more of the following joints swollen – wrist, hand, finger joints
- Rheumatoid nodules, which are swelling or tissue lumps that are firm to the touch, in the elbows or other pressure points of the body
Other Examinations That May Follow
Should you doctor suspect or confirm that you have Rheumatoid Arthritis, there are other exams that may follow.
- Cardiovascular (heart) health check as rheumatism may bring cardiovascular risks. A heartbeat of 60 to 100 as an average is considered normal.
- Blood pressure check
- Neurological exam may include checking muscle strength, reflexes and body balance.
- Extremities may be checked to look for physical and/or sensory changes, followed by checking the pulses in your arms, legs and joints.
If Further Testing is Needed
Your doctor may also request or send you for further testing. These tests may include:
- Complete and differential blood counts – anaemia (a deficiency of red cells or of haemoglobin in the blood) and higher neutrophils (white blood cells) are seen in Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) tests for the speed that your red blood cells sinks, if it sinks faster than usual, you may have an inflammatory condition
- C-reactive protein (CRP) test can check if there is inflammation in the body by checking the amount of CRP in your blood. CRP is produced in the liver and if more than usual, inflammation is present
- While specific blood tests can help diagnose for rheumatoid arthritis, it may not be accurate for everyone. Having a positive rheumatoid factor present in the blood may not mean that you have rheumatism. Hence another antibody test – anti-CCP (anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide) might be needed and if tested positive, it is likely that the person will develop rheumatoid arthritis. (Note: but not everybody found to have rheumatoid arthritis has this antibody)
Blood tests alone may not be able to diagnose you as the findings are seen in other diseases as well or even in healthy adults. Those who test positive for both rheumatoid factor and anti-CCP, for example, may be more likely to have severe rheumatoid arthritis requiring higher levels of treatment.
Your doctor may also arrange for X-rays, ultrasounds or MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to detect the join damage that has already occurred. Destruction of bones around hand and wrist joints are typical of rheumatism.
Among the symptoms and lab tests mentioned above, if you fall into any 4 categories for more than 6 weeks, your doctor is likely to diagnose you with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Rheumatism damages joints and most of the damage takes place in the first 1 or 2 years of the disease. Hence early diagnosis is crucial!
Always check with your physician or doctor to get clarification on your ailments and the best procedures. The above tests and symptoms are meant as a guide and may or may not be applicable to you.