Arthritis Home > Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis

Reasons why a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis can be difficult to pinpoint in the early stages include the fact that there is no single test for the disease, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms differ from person to person, and the full range of symptoms develops over time. Tools used for making a diagnosis are a physical examination, laboratory tests, and x-rays.

Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Introduction

Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages for several reasons. First, there is no single test for the disease. In addition, symptoms differ from person to person and can be more severe in some people than in others. Also, symptoms can be similar to those of other types of arthritis and joint conditions, and it may take some time for other conditions to be ruled out.
Finally, the full range of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms develops over time, and only a few signs may be present in the early stages.

Tools for Making a Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis

To help in diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis and to rule out other conditions, healthcare providers use a variety of tools. These include:
  • Medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Laboratory tests
  • X-rays.
Medical History
The medical history is the patient's description of symptoms and when and how they began. Good communication between the patient and healthcare provider is especially important here. For example, the patient's description of pain, stiffness, and joint function, and how these change over time is critical to the healthcare provider's initial assessment of the disease and how it progresses.
Physical Examination
The physical exam includes the doctor's examination of the joints, skin, reflexes, and muscle strength.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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