Blood Test Can Predict Rheumatoid Arthritis


If you were able to predict several years in advance that you were going to develop rheumatoid arthritis, you could begin treatment early and prevent progression of the disease. That would be an advantage of getting a blood test that can identify certain factors that increase significantly prior to onset of rheumatoid arthritis.

Scientists from University Hospital in Umea, Sweden, have identified such factors, which include various cytokines, cytokine-related factors, and chemokines, the levels of which all rise prior to onset of rheumatoid arthritis. This chronic disease affects about 1.3 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation, and is characterized by inflammation of the joints involving the synovial (fluid that lubricates the joints) tissue, as well as pain, stiffness, redness, and swelling around the joints. Over time the disease progresses to include damage and destruction of the cartilage and joints, limiting a person’s movement. Because rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, it can also affect other organs in the body.

Experts have known for some time that numerous cytokines (proteins capable of regulating inflammatory responses) are active in the synovial tissue of people who have already developed disease symptoms. However, the ability to identify elevated levels of certain cytokines years before symptoms of the disease occur will allow individuals and their doctors to take preventive steps immediately, which can greatly improve quality of life.


Use of such a blood test is helpful given that rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose because early symptoms such as aching joints and morning stiffness can be subtle. Early diagnosis using the blood test will also allow clinicians to rule out other diseases, such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus, which have symptoms similar to those in rheumatoid arthritis.

In the Swedish study, the research team analyzed blood samples from 86 individuals before the appearance of symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (pre-patients), from 69 of the pre-patients after the onset of symptoms, and from 256 healthy controls. The scientists then measured the plasma levels of 30 cytokines, related factors, and chemokines.

The main difference between the rheumatoid arthritis patients and controls was the presence of Th1 cell-, Th2 cell-, and Treg cell-related cytokines, while the differences between the pre-patients and those who developed rheumatoid arthritis was the presence of chemokines, proinflammatory cytokines, and cytokine-related factors. These discoveries indicate that a blood test can identify elevated levels of certain factors years before development of rheumatoid arthritis and thus help predict the disease. Early diagnosis allows immediate treatment and preventive measures that can lessen the severity of the disease and improve quality of life.

Arthritis Foundation
Wiley-Blackwell 2010 Jan. 29. Retrieved from Jan. 29, 2010 from