A local rheumatologist is a physician who is trained in treating patients who have diseases of the joints, bones and muscles. There are certain diseases that cause a person’s immune system to attack their own body. Patients with different types of arthritis and diseases such as gout and fibromyalgia work with a rheumatologist. If your local family physician thinks you may benefit from working with a local rheumatologist, they may refer you. It’s important to see a local rheumatologist as soon as possible, as many diseases can cause permanent joint damage over time. If you have a family history of diseases such as arthritis, talk to your local family physician.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. Affecting about 1% of the population, it is one of the most common types of inflammatory arthritis. RA is a systemic rheumatic disease, which means that it can affect the entire body.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes
Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term autoimmune disease. Although the reason why is not well understood, a variety of factors may be involved including genetics, hormones and environmental factors.
RA occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues and cells. As a result, patients may experience fatigue in addition to joint pain, swelling and stiffness.
The Importance of Early Treatment
It's essential that rheumatoid arthritis is treated as early as possible to prevent further joint damage. Not only can early treatment prevent crippling pain, it can also reduce the risk of other medical conditions associated with chronic inflammation, such as heart disease.
Fortunately, with proper treatment, many patients with rheumatoid arthritis are able to live healthy and active lives.
Who Gets Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is three times more common in women than in men. People generally notice the first signs and symptoms of RA between the ages of 25 and 50.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis
Rheumatoid arthritis is usually diagnosed by a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in autoimmune diseases and arthritis.
To diagnose RA, a physician will take a complete medical history and perform a physical examination. In most cases, they will also order blood tests and x-rays to help confirm the diagnosis.
Common Tests to Diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis
There is no single test that can diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. Also, some patients may have normal results from certain blood tests, even though they have RA. That's why rheumatologists consider various factors when diagnosing a patient with rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease, so blood tests often show abnormal results. Common tests that detect inflammation include a Complete Blood Count (CBC), C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR).
A local rheumatologist will also look for a type of autoantibody called Rheumatoid Factor (RF). This antibody, which targets the body’s own tissues, is elevated in 80% of people with RA. However, a positive test can be from another cause, and a patient who tests negative can still have rheumatoid arthritis.
ANother autoantibody that can be detected in the blood is the Anti-Cyclic Citrullinated Peptide Antibody. The anti-CCP test looks for anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPAs), which target the body’s own tissues. This autoantibody is present in 60-70% of people who develop RA.
However, like with the Rheumatoid Factor test, a patient can test positive due to another cause, and someone who tests negative can still have rheumatoid arthritis.