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How do I know if I’ve got arthritis?

Arthritis is a common cause of joint pain. It can come and go or it can be constant. There are over 100 types of arthritis, but the most common one is osteoarthritis. To find out if you have arthritis, your doctor may do a physical exam to check for tenderness and swelling in the joints and to see how well you can move those joints.

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If your doctor thinks you might have arthritis, they may take blood or urine tests to check for chemicals in your body that are linked to the autoimmune response of arthritis. A woman’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis is increased by both smoking and alcohol use and decreased if she doesn’t smoke or drink. If you think you might have arthritis, talk with your doctor. Only a licensed physician is qualified to determine if you have arthritis or some other type of disease that is causing pain.

How does a doctor determine that it’s arthritis?

To diagnose arthritic conditions, doctors rely on blood and urine tests that measure certain proteins in the blood and/or urine, and also they can call on genetic tests.
Your doctor will draw some blood that will help diagnose if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other inflammatory conditions. Not all inflammatory conditions are caused by arthritis. Here are some other causes.

A long-term infection
Bacterial endocarditis

Infectious mononucleosis
Sjögren’s syndrome

Rheumatoid factors or RF are a type of protein that your body makes as part of the immune system gets confused and attacks normal, healthy tissue.

About 70% of people with RA have a high reading. In general, if you have RA but don’t have a high RF, your disease will be more severe. RF levels may stay high even if you go into remission.

Your Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)

An Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) is a blood test that can help diagnose infection and inflammation. The erythrocytes are the red blood cells that produce hemoglobin, and sedimentation rates measure how quickly they fall to the bottom of a tube of blood fluid by gravitational force. This test is done by placing the tube of blood in a centrifuge. The centrifuge separates the erythrocytes from their plasma, and after a few minutes, the sedimentation rate can be read from the bottom of the tube. A normal sedimentation rate is 0-3 mm/hr.

Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP)

Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) is a type of antibody that can be detected in the blood. It screens for the presence of rheumatoid arthritis, which can help diagnose an individual’s susceptibility to developing this inflammatory condition.

Positive CCP was detected in the blood of over 90% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The presence and level of anti-CCP can determine whether rheumatoid arthritis is present or not, and a negative result indicates that the individual has not developed rheumatoid arthritis. Anti-CCP antibodies are also used in research as a marker for rheumatoid arthritis and AS. Anti-CCP test is unreliable for the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis, as anti-CCP levels can.

C-reactive protein (CRP)

CRP is a protein found in your liver when inflammation is present.

It’s one of the many substances that are in your blood and is often used to diagnose conditions such as arthritis, lupus, and gout. CRP levels can also indicate an increased risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and other chronic diseases.

Antinuclear antibody (ANA)

Tests measure the presence of certain unusual antibodies in your blood. They help identify the presence of some types of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.


Anemia is a condition in which red blood cells are too few or have changed in size. It can be caused by several illnesses, including disorders such as pregnancy, an infection, or an underlying health problem such as arthritis.

The HLA-B27 gene

HLA-B27 is a gene found in the blood of some victims of ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis. It is also found in people who have a higher risk of developing the disease. Researchers think that HLA-B27 may be associated with inflammation and joint damage in this type of arthritis.

A Complete blood count

The complete blood count (CBC) measures red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, hematocrit, and hemoglobin.

Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to your body
White blood cells, which fight infection

Platelets, which help your blood clot

Hemoglobin is a protein that helps your blood carry oxygen

Hematocrit, a measurement of how much red blood is in your system

  1. Red Blood Cells: This is the most important part of the CBC because it includes counts of the red blood cells in your peripheral circulation (cells outside your body). This is referred to as a “packed cell volume” and is a measurement of the total volume of red blood cells in your circulation.
  2. White Blood Cells: This count includes white blood cells, which are part of your immune system. This count is referred to as an “absolute cell count.”
  3. Platelets: This includes counts of the platelets in your circulation. This count is referred to as a “platelet count.”
  4. Hemoglobin: This includes the hemoglobin in your blood, which is important because it’s needed to transport oxygen from your lungs to various other parts of your body.
  5. Hematocrit is the measurement of how much red blood is in your system. It’s usually expressed as a percentage and can be measured by taking a blood sample and running it through a machine.

Creatine kinase (CK)

Creatine kinase is a muscle enzyme that is released when muscle cells are damaged. The concentration of creatine kinase in the blood is an indication of the severity of the injury. A high level means that more damage has occurred and the person is more likely to have problems with their heart, lungs, or other organs. A low level means that the person is healthy.

More than 30 different blood proteins work together during an inflammatory response. These proteins are consumed during this process so your body has to produce more to keep going.
Your physician can perform some, many, or even all of these tests to get to a diagnosis of arthritis.

There are at least 100 different forms of arthritis and related diseases, but the most common are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Childhood arthritis
  • Spondyloarthropathies
  • Lupus erythematosus
  • Gout
  • Infectious and reactive arthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis

There is no known cure yet for arthritis. The goal of treatment is to limit pain and inflammation and preserve joint function. Treatment options include medicines, weight reduction, exercise, and surgery.

Patients may take comfort knowing how severe their arthritis is if that is the diagnosis. It’s also a relief to eliminate more severe conditions that could be life-threatening.

As you can see, it can be complicated to determine if you indeed have arthritis and what type of arthritic condition. You could also have a combination of diseases with arthritis that give you discomfort and pain. Congratulations on trying to understand what may be causing the pain and seek professional help as you are able.