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 will carry 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 all your symptoms, not just ones you think are important, as this will help them to make the correct diagnosis.

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

Blood tests

Your GP may arrange blood tests to help confirm the diagnosis.

No blood test can definitively prove or rule out a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, but a number of tests can show possible indications of the condition.

Some of the main tests used include:

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

Read more about blood tests.

The full blood count measures your red cells to rule out anaemia. Anaemia means the blood is unable to carry enough oxygen, because of a lack of blood cells.

Anaemia is common in people with rheumatoid arthritis, although having anaemia doesn'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 how your condition is progressing over time.

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

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Page last reviewed: 12/08/2016

Next review due: 12/08/2019