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If you’re having joint symptoms that affect your everyday life — like pain, stiffness, swelling or fatigue — it could be arthritis. In addition to considering your symptoms, age, lifestyle and health history, your doctor can use blood tests to find out what’s going on.
There are several blood tests that may help diagnose, or rule out, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other inflammatory conditions. They look for several immune system and inflammatory markers that are usually present in someone who has RA. We’re here to let you know which typical blood tests to expect if you or your doctor suspect you have arthritis.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of one or more joints. The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis causes cartilage to break down. It also causes changes in the bones and deterioration of the connective tissues that attach muscle to bone and hold the joint together. If cartilage in a joint is severely damaged, the joint lining may become inflamed and swollen.
In rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, the body's immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule, a tough membrane that encloses all the joint parts. This lining (synovial membrane) becomes inflamed and swollen. RA can eventually destroy cartilage and bone within the joint.
5 Blood Tests That Can Help Diagnose Arthritis
Rheumatoid Factor: Rheumatoid factor is an antibody (protein) found in the blood. An elevated level of rheumatoid factor along with pain in the same joints on both sides of the body is an indicator for rheumatoid arthritis.
While it’s helpful, rheumatoid factor can’t diagnose arthritis on its own. Only about 30% of patients with early rheumatoid arthritis test RF positive.
Anti-Nuclear Antibody (ANA): People with autoimmune disorders produce antinuclear antibodies (ANA) that attack healthy cells. ANA can be associated with rheumatoid arthritis, but it’s more common in other autoimmune disorders like lupus.
Anti-CCP Antibody Test: Anti-CCP antibodies are found in 60% to 70% of people with rheumatoid arthritis. These antibodies are directed against cyclic citrullinated peptides (CCP) and can be present before rheumatoid arthritis even develops. A positive anti-CCP test is considered quite predictive of having RA.
C-Reactive Protein (CRP): When there is inflammation in the body, the liver produces a protein called CRP. A high CRP level indicates an inflammatory condition, or an infection. CRP level is not necessarily a strong indicator of RA specifically, but supports an RA diagnosis. Doctors also use this test to monitor a patient’s response to treatment.
Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate Test (ESR): This test also screens for inflammation. The faster red blood cells (erythrocytes) fall to the bottom of a tube filled with the patient’s blood, the greater the inflammation level. Because inflammation is a factor in many conditions, this test can support the diagnosis of arthritis, but not on its own. It can also be used to determine the level of your condition.
Other Arthritis Testing Options
- Skin biopsy: A small piece of skin is removed by a doctor. It’s usually done under local anesthetic. The sample is tested in a lab and the results help determine the presence of lupus, vasculitis and psoriatic arthritis.
- Muscle biopsy: Your doctor takes the tissue sample from a muscle with a biopsy needle. The sample is reviewed for signs of damage to muscle fibers to help confirm a diagnosis of polymyositis or vasculitis.
- Joint fluid tests: Your doctor removes a small amount of fluid from a joint to determine the presence of uric acid and diagnose gout.
Imaging techniques may give your healthcare provider a clearer picture of what is happening to your joints. Imaging techniques might include:
- X-ray: X-rays may show joint changes and bone damage found in some types of arthritis. Other imaging tests may also be done.
- Ultrasound: Ultrasound uses sound waves (not radiation) to see the quality of synovial tissue, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI images are more detailed than X-rays. They may show damage to joints, including muscles, ligaments, and cartilage.
- Arthroscopy: This procedure uses a thin tube containing a light and camera (arthroscope) to look inside the joint. The arthroscope is inserted into the joint through a small incision. Images of the inside of the joint are projected onto a screen.
Managing and Treating Arthritis
Prescription and over-the-counter medicines recommended by your doctor can help control inflammation and pain. If you have side effects that keep you from taking your medications, or if you have trouble affording them, reach out to your provider about your options.
If arthritis causes serious damage to the joints, a person may need surgery. Surgery can help fix or replace a damaged joint, reduce pain and improve the way a joint functions.
Arthritis surgery can have many benefits that include:
- Reduced joint pain
- Improved joint function
- Prevents further joint damage
- Helps the person reduce their use of anti-inflammatory drugs
- Improved mobility
- Improved daily functioning
- Improved quality of life
Keep moving with physical activities like walking, water aerobics at your local gym or yoga. Not only can staying active help you maintain a healthy weight, it can also help reduce joint pain and improve your flexibility, balance and strength.
Cardiovascular exercise, like biking on a stationary bike, also helps keep your heart healthy. If you’re new to exercise, talk to your provider to find out what exercises will be best for you. With physical activity, you’ll also likely feel more energetic and it can help you sleep better — that’s a win-win.
Choose AdventHealth for Arthritis Testing and Treatment
If you’re experiencing symptoms that require a lab test, AdventHealth is here for you with convenient lab services and quick, accurate results. Click here to learn more, find a location near you and schedule an appointment.