Health.com—January 28, 2010
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which affects an estimated 1.3 million Americans, is an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints, causing inflammation, pain, and swelling. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing long-term joint damage, but the warning signs of rheumatoid arthritis are often easily confused with those of other diseases and conditions.
Now, a new study reports that markers of inflammation that can be detected in the bloodstream rise long before symptoms of the disease. This finding holds out the possibility that doctors can one day treat rheumatoid arthritis before it starts to take a toll on the patient. Treating rheumatoid arthritis early and aggressively with a combination of drugs provides the best odds of preventing joint damage.
The study “moves the whole field along,” says rheumatologist Lionel Ivashkiv, MD, an associate chief scientific officer at Hospital for Special Surgery, in New York City. “In the future, in combination with other tests and risk factors—such as genetics, smoking, and family history—we can maybe predict who is at high risk for developing RA.”
However, Dr. Ivashkiv stresses, the blood testing used in the study is not likely to be used by arthritis doctors in the near term. “It is another way of trying to identify patients with early RA, but it is not practical yet,” he says.
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