Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis

rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be difficult to diagnose because many conditions cause joint stiffness and inflammation. Your doctor will do a physical examination, checking your joints to see if they are swollen and to find out how easily they move. It is very important to tell your doctor about all of your symptoms, not just the ones you think are important.

If your doctor thinks you have RA they may refer you to a specialist called a 'rheumatologist'. A rheumatologist can diagnose this disease and ensure you receive the right treatment. If you have RA and have not yet seen a rheumatologist, you can ask your doctor for a referral.

After conducting a physical examination and consulting your medical history, your doctor may carry out a series of tests which may help to confirm the diagnosis, or they may refer you at the same time as requesting tests. Tests that you may have are outlined below.

Blood tests

No blood test can definitively diagnose RA. While a number of tests can indicate to your doctor that you may have developed the condition, they will not necessarily prove or rule out the diagnosis. If you have persistent joint inflammation, you will need to see a rheumatologist.

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)

In an ESR test, a sample of your red blood cells is placed into a test tube of liquid. The cells are then timed to see how fast they fall to the bottom of the tube (measured in millimetres per hour). If they are sinking faster than usual, you may have an inflammatory condition, such as RA.

C-reactive protein (CRP)

A CRP test can indicate if there is inflammation anywhere in the body by checking how much CRP is present in your blood. CRP is produced by the liver. If there is more CRP than usual, there is inflammation in your body.

Full blood count

The full blood count will measure your red cells to rule out anaemia. Anaemia is a condition where the blood is unable to carry enough oxygen, due to a lack of blood cells. Eight out of ten people with RA have anaemia. However, anaemia can have many causes, including a lack of iron in your diet. Therefore, having anaemia does not prove that you have RA.

Rheumatoid factor

This blood test checks to see if a specific antibody, known as the 'rheumatoid factor', is present in your blood. This antibody is present in eight out of ten people with RA. However, it cannot always be detected in the early stages of the condition. The antibody is also found in 1 in 20 people who do not have RA, so this test cannot confirm RA. If it is negative, another antibody test (for anti-CCP) may be done, which is more specific for the disease.

Joint imaging

X-rays of your joints can help differentiate between different types of arthritis. A series of X-rays can also help show how your condition is progressing. A chest X-ray may also be taken as both the disease and certain treatments (such as methotrexate) can affect the chest.

Musculoskeletal ultrasound may be used in the clinic to confirm the presence, distribution and severity of inflammation and joint damage.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can help show what damage has been done to a joint.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis)

Last reviewed: July 2015

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 81 results

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease affecting the lining of your bodys joints.

Read more on WA Health website

CCP - Lab Tests Online AU

To help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and differentiate it from other types of arthritis; sometimes to help evaluate the prognosis of a patient with RA

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Sjogren Syndrome - Lab Tests Online AU

Sjgren syndrome is an inflammatory disorder that affects the mucous membranes, causing dry mouth, decreased tear production, and dryness of other body membranes. It usually occurs in women around 50 years old, and the cause is unknown. Sjgren syndrome can occur as a primary disorder or secondarily in association with other well-defined autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), progressive systemic sclerosis (PSS), polymyositis (PM), and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). In Australia involvement of organs such as brain, kidney and lung is uncommon.

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Arthritis - juvenile

Juvenile arthritis is a general term that describes all types of arthritis diagnosed in someone under the age of 16 years.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Juvenile chronic arthritis - myDr.com.au

Juvenile chronic arthritis or juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is long-term joint inflammation (arthritis) in children. The main symptom is having painful joints for no obvious reason.

Read more on myDr website

Learn About Your Condition - Juvenile Arthritis

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is a group of conditions that affect children and teens under the age of 16

Read more on MOVE muscle, bone & joint health website

Rheumatoid factor - Lab Tests Online AU

This test detects evidence of rheumatoid factor (RF), which is a type of autoantibody. An antibody is a protective protein that forms in the blood in response to a foreign material, known as an antigen (for example a bacterial protein). Autoantibodies, however, are antibodies that attack one's own proteins rather than foreign protein. Rheumatoid factors are autoantibodies directed against the class of immunoglobulins known as IgG and are members of a class of proteins that become elevated in states of inflammation.

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

ANA - Lab Tests Online AU

To screen for certain autoimmune disorders, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), polymyositis, and a number of others

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Synovial fluid - Lab Tests Online AU

Synovial fluid analysis is used to help diagnose the cause of joint inflammation, pain, and/or swelling.

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

ANCA/MPO/PR3 Antibodies - Lab Tests Online AU

ANCA Antibodies; c-ANCA; p-ANCA; Serine Protease 3; MPO; PR3; Anticytoplasmic Autoantibodies; 3-ANCA; PR3-ANCA; MPO-ANCA

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Check your symptoms Find a health service

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback