Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Pain in the hands and the feet affecting identical joints on each side, affecting the proximal joints more compared to the distal ones
- Tender, warm, and swollen joints1
- Appearance of rheumatoid nodules, which are firm bumps of tissue under the skin or arms
- Morning stiffness that may last for hours
- Weight loss
These symptoms can spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips, and shoulders as the disease progresses. They can also come and go from time to time, or may flare up (periods of increased disease activity).
How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed?
Once these rheumatoid arthritis symptoms manifest, a checkup with a health professional or a rheumatologist is needed ASAP.
Just take note that there are many exams and tests that can be done in order for RA to be completely diagnosed, and one test or exam is not enough to make a complete diagnosis, especially in the early stages of the condition.2,3
Since rheumatoid arthritis directly affects the joints, your doctor will likely do a physical examination that will involve:4
- Checking for visible signs of joint swelling, stiffness, or redness (applies to all joints)
- Inspecting for fluid/s and warmth in the joint
- Moving the joints back and forth to test their range of motion
- Looking for tender areas near or around the joint
Standard procedures during physical exams, such as reading temperature, examining for swollen glands, and inspecting the reflexes, eyes, and throat, are also performed on the patient.
These Tests May Help Determine If You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis
Blood tests can help measure the amount of inflammation and antibodies present in the patient's body, as well as determine the status of general systems. These include complete blood counts and liver and kidney function. A patient can either take the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test or a C-reactive protein (CRP) test.
According to Arthritis Research U.K., "blood tests can show if you're anemic and may be used to detect rheumatoid factor, which is an antibody produced by a reaction in your immune system." If the results are high, it means inflammation is present.
Another test that can be taken is the anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) test. A positive anti-CCP test indicates that a person is at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
A rheumatoid arthritis patient can also undergo an x-ray, as it will show any damage on the joints which are products of inflammation. The changes are usually visible in x-rays of the feet before they appear in other joints.
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can also be used to check for bone damage that x-rays cannot show.5 Ultrasound scans can be used as well. However, these two aren't widely being used yet, but they are definitely being analyzed for future use.