Do I Have RA?

I am often asked this question. People hurt here and there, or feel tender or swollen. Is it RA? Is Osteoarthritis? Fibromyalgia? Lupus?

Of course only a Rheumatologist can diagnose you and if you think you might have any of the above-mentioned ailments, one make an appointment to see one. Bear in mind that tests are conclusive and the doctor may have to reply on symptoms and your description of what's going on. Start keeping a diary and bring it with you along with your questions and don't be discourage if a concrete diagnosis is illusive, but your doctor should give you a prescription to give you some relief even while he rules things out.

Basic checklist.  You should have most of these symptoms:

    * Joint pain - note that early RA affects smaller joints first, finger, hands, wrists, feel before knees or shoulder.
    * Joint swelling - may be warm to the touch and tender. Feels better when run under warm water, as in the shower.
    * Hand may be red or puffy
    * Firm bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms (rheumatoid nodules)
    * Fatigue
    * Morning stiffness that may last for hours. Mornings are almost always worse than any other time of day.
    * Fever

Note that:

    * RA strikes women three times more than men. Men can have it, but it's much more common in men.
    * RA generally strikes adults between 40 and 60. I got mine in my 30s.  Children get it to, but it's called Juvenile Arthritis when they do.  If you are pushing 60 or over, and you have just started getting symptoms, chances are it's not RA. But even if it's OA, you still need to see a rheumatologist.
    * RA generally effects joints symmetrically, so BOTH hands will hurt, or be stiff or swollen or BOTH feet. If it's more likely, it could be an injury or OA.
    * It can creep up very slowly: and ache here, stiffness there. My fingers were swelling so badly I could no longer wear my rings, but I was able to assure myself for a while that it was because it was summer.
    * OR, it can come on like a ton of bricks. Sometimes it even presents with one of its complications. Sudden onsets, like flare-ups, are often triggered by stress and that includes good stress, like a wedding.
    * RA is not hereditary but it is believed that families may pas son a predisposition. If any family has RA or Lupus or another similar autoimmune disease, that adds into the diagnostic equation. Your doctor will likely as so find out if you don't know and be sure to tell him even he doesn't ask.

Who should you see? A Rheumatologist.  If you think you might have it, the sooner you begin treatment the better. Don't play round with a family doctor giving you aspirin for too long. Being stoic does not serve you well in the long run. Again, not to scare you but people with RA are TWICE s likely to have a heart attack or stroke as those who do not have RA; 3 times as likely if you've had the RA for 10years or more. About 40% of people with RA die from heart attacks. This is regardless of other risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and lack of exercise.

One of the bets ways to prevent these serious possibilities is to be on proper medication. NSAIDS have an added risk of heart attack, but disease modifying drugs (DMRADS) "may play a role in preventing heart disease in people with RA" Arthritis Self Management March/April 2010 (based on several studies). Some of the studies suggest that long periods of reduced or no symptoms because of aggressive treatment reduces heart attack risk.

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What Tests?

Rheumatoid factors are a variety of antibodies that are present in 70% to 90% of people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Rheumatoid factor can be found in people without RA or with other autoimmune disorders, however. In general, when no rheumatoid factor is present in someone with RA, the course of the disease is less severe. A new test for rheumatoid arthritis that measures levels of antibodies that bind citrulline modified proteins (anti-CCP) is more specific and tends to be only elevated in patients with rheumatoid arthritis or in patients about to develop rheumatoid arthritis.  The presence of anti-CCP antibodies can be used to predict which patients will get more severe rheumatoid arthritis.

The erythrocyte sedimentation rate (sed. rate or ESR) is an indication of the degree of inflammation in the body. It is actually a measurement of the speed with which red blood cells fall in a test tube of blood. When the inflammation in the blood goes up, these inflammatory substances attach to red blood cells and the cells fall faster. In healthy persons, the sed. rate is low and it climbs with inflammation. It doesn't point to any particular disease, but is a general indication of the amount of inflammation in the body. In lupus and polymyalgia rheumatica, the ESR often correlates with disease activity.
C-reactive protein (CRP) also indicates the amount of inflammation present. It is thought to be a better test than the sed. rate for certain diseases. In patients with rheumatoid arthritis, if the CRP is high, it suggests that there is significant inflammation or injury in the body.

Both CRP and ESR levels are used to monitor disease activity and to monitor how well someone is responding to treatment.

X-rays can also conform damage done by arthritis.