Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose because many conditions cause joint stiffness and inflammation and there's no definitive test for the condition.

You should see your GP if you have these symptoms so they can try to determine the cause.

Seeing your GP

Your GP willcarry out a physical examination, checking your joints for any swelling and to assess how easily they move. Your GP will also ask you about your symptoms.

It's important to tell your GP about allyour symptoms, not just ones you think are important, as this will helpthem tomake the correct diagnosis.

If your GP thinks you have rheumatoid arthritis,they'll refer you to a specialist (rheumatologist).

Blood tests

Your GP may arrangeblood tests to help confirm the diagnosis.

Noblood test candefinitively prove or rule out a diagnosis ofrheumatoid arthritis, buta number of tests can show possible indications of the condition.

Some of the main tests usedinclude:

  • erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
  • C-reactive protein (CRP)
  • full blood count

Anaemia meansthe blood is unable to carry enough oxygen, because of a lack of blood cells.

Anaemia is common in people withrheumatoid arthritis, althoughhaving anaemiadoesn't prove you have rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid factor and anti-CCP antibodies

Specific blood tests can help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, but aren't accurate in everyone.

About half of all people with rheumatoid arthritis have a positive rheumatoid factor present in their blood when the disease starts, but about one in 20 people without rheumatoid arthritis also tests positive.

An antibody test known as anti-CCP (anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide) is available. People who test positive for anti-CCP are very likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, but not everybody found to have rheumatoid arthritis has this antibody.

Those who test positive for both rheumatoid factor and anti-CCP may be more likely to have severe rheumatoid arthritis requiring higher levels of treatment.

Joint imaging

A number of different scans may also be carried out to check for joint inflammation and damage. These can help tell the difference between different types of Arthritis and can be used to monitor howyour condition is progressing over time.

Scans that may be carried out to diagnose and monitor rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • X-rays where radiation is passed through your body to examine your bones and joints
  • ultrasound scans where high frequency sound waves are used to create an image of joints
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans where strong magnetic fields and radio waves are used to produce detailed images of your joints

Want to know more?

  • Arthritis Care: Getting a diagnosis
  • National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society: Making a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis
  • National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society: Newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis? (PDF, 1.29Mb)

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 23 Nov 2016