Getting Diagnosed With RA

By Genentech
Getting Diagnosed With RA

Getting diagnosed is an important step toward taking charge of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). To diagnose RA, your healthcare team looks at all the information you provide. They will gather information in a number of ways:

Medical history: Your healthcare team will ask questions about symptoms you’re having. Questions may include:

  • Where on your body do you feel the pain?
  • How often do you feel pain?
  • When do you feel pain? For instance, is the pain worse in the morning or at night?

Be specific in your answers. Sharing as much information as possible can help your doctor make the appropriate treatment decisions.

Physical exam: Your doctor or healthcare team will examine each joint for common signs of RA. These include:

  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Joint pain when moving
  • Limited motion
  • Long-term damage

Your healthcare team will also note how many joints are affected. This is called a joint count. It can help measure the severity of your condition, monitor your symptoms, and predict the course RA might take.

Lab tests: After gathering specific information from you, your doctor or healthcare team will then use lab tests to rule out other possible conditions. Some tests will also indicate the presence of markers associated with RA:

  • C-reactive protein (CRP): If you have this in your body, it means there’s inflammation. As the level of inflammation rises, so does the level of CRP. Studies have shown that people with high CRP levels over time also have more severe joint damage
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate, also referred to as ESR or "sed rate.” Most people with RA have raised ESR
  • Rheumatoid factor (RF): When the immune system attacks itself, as in RA, the body produces RF. About 75% of people with RA are RF positive
  • Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP): Many people with RA have anti-CCP antibodies in their systems. About 98% of people with RA have these antibodies in their systems
  • Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test: Usually given to people who are experiencing new symptoms of RA, in order to rule out other autoimmune diseases

Your healthcare team may also take X-rays to check for swelling of soft tissues and loss of bone density around joints. They may also do bone scans to detect inflammation.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and joint ultrasounds are also tools that can find signs of inflammation.

Taking an active role in your healthcare

By learning all you can about RA, you can do your part in getting the right diagnosis. And make sure to keep track of every symptom you experience, even if it seems unrelated. If you have RA, this will help you work with your healthcare team on a treatment plan.