New blood test for rheumatoid arthritis

FRESNO, Calif.

"I can't remember a day that I don't hurt," Robyn Nichols told Action News.

For 30 year old Robyn Nicols, the pain started at just two and a half years old.

"These are just the prescriptions I take. 18 different prescriptions," Robyn said.

And it's getting worse.

"I'm terrified of falling, tripping and falling 'cause i will just shatter," Robyn said.

Rheumatoid arthritis or RA happens when the body's own immune cells attack healthy tissues, causing bone to painfully scrape against bone at the joint.

"The onset of RA can be explosive. People can go to bed feeling well one night, and the next morning develop symptoms that can be very dramatic," Mary Chester Wasko, M.D., a rheumatologist, explained.

Symptoms include joint pain, swelling, stiffness, restricted range of motion and extreme fatigue. The two main causes are genetic and environmental, but there is another possible trigger.

"Smoking, believe it or not, is actually a risk factor for the development of RA," Marc Levesque, M.D., director of the rheumatoid arthritis center at the University of Pittsburgh, said.

To diagnose it, doctors use a variety of tests and x-rays. But now, a new blood test called anti CCP is giving doctors hope for early treatment.

"It turns out that many people with RA have a positive test years in advance of getting thesymptoms," Dr. Levesque said.

The latest results show the blood test is correct 86% of the time. But, some doctors argue the RA blood markers could be confused with markers for other autoimmune diseases such as lupus, psoriasis or even a viral infection.

Still the test could give doctors the head start they need to treat RA before symptoms appear and aggressively with a combo of drugs. That gives patients the best odds of avoiding joint damage. Although Robyn has had both of her knees replaced, and her ankles fused, she hopes advances like this one will save others the pain she's suffered.

Arthritis Foundation

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