What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease as we learned in the column titled, “What is an autoimmune disease,” rheumatoid arthritis operates by our immune system attacking healthy tissues that surround joints causing joint damage. Much the same as lupus, we are not entirely sure what triggers this response of the immune system. However, we do know that genetics play an important role, as well as environmental factors
Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis or (RA) for short can be a challenge. There are certain characteristics of RA that can lead a rheumatologist in the right direction when trying to make a diagnosis. Before I get into that I would like to take the opportunity to list the symptoms of RA. Which include joint pain, muscle pain, stiffness, red swollen joints, fatigue, and RA can also affect the eyes, lungs, and heart. It is typical to have symmetry in which joints are affected. Simply put if you have pain in your finger joints it is usually on both hands. This is the same with the joints throughout the body, what is inflamed on the left side of the body will also be inflamed on the right side of the body.
There also are blood tests that can be performed to help the rheumatologist determine if in fact it is RA. The most common blood test for RA is the rheumatoid factor (RF) this measures antibodies in the blood. A positive result could indicate that you have RA. The rheumatologist will most likely order these common blood tests (CPR) C- reactive protein, and (ESR) erythrocyte sedimentation rate to determine the amount of inflammation in the body. While these blood tests are not to be the only tools used, they can aide the rheumatologist in making the correct diagnosis.
Many people have rheumatoid arthritis and don’t have positive rheumatoid factors. I am one of them; this is referred to as seronegative RA. This can make it tricky for the rheumatologist to make a diagnosis as they will have to rely on your explanation of symptoms and a physical examination of your joints over a period of months. This can lead to patients being misdiagnosed with other diseases that follow the same pattern of joint pain, like fibromyalgia just to give an example.
This happened to me and I was misdiagnosed, and it took years for me to find out exactly what I had in order to receive the correct treatment. It is very important that we be our own health advocates, because doctors are human, and mistakes can be made. I got three second opinions before I finally got the correct diagnosis. Don’t give up if you are still struggling to get a diagnosis, it can be frustrating knowing something is wrong, but not having a medical name for it. Sometimes it just takes time for all your symptoms to appear in the right sequence for the rheumatologist to be able to put all the pieces together.
I am very grateful that there are dedicated doctors that really take their time making sure patients receive the correct diagnosis for their disease. I am hopeful that with more research advancements will be made and those suffering can get treatment sooner. Thank you for taking time to read this article. Please keep in mind I am not a medical professional just a fellow RA warrior. Continue to follow my column as we keep diving into autoimmune diseases.
Signed a fellow warrior,