New test is giving hope to doctors for early treatment of RA

Rheumatoid arthritis causes more than a million people to cringe in pain every day. 75 percent of those people are women.

There's no cure, but early diagnosis and treatment can keep people moving longer. Now there's a new way doctors can find it before the pain sets in.

For 30 year old Robyn Nicols, the pain started at just two and a half years old. Robyn has had both of her knees replaced, her ankles fused, and things getting worse.

Robyn Nichols, rheumatoid arthritis patient, explains how she lives with fear, "I'm terrified of falling. Tripping and falling, because I will just shatter."

Rheumatoid arthritis or RA, happens when the body's own immune cells attack healthy tissues, causing bone to painfully scrape against bone, at the joint.

Mary Chester Wasko, MD, Rheumatologist, explains how fast the symptoms can occur, "The onset of RA can be explosive. People can go to bed feeling well one night, and the next morning develop symptoms that can be very dramatic."

Symptoms include joint pain, swelling, stiffness, restricted range of motion and extreme fatigue. To diagnose it, doctors use a variety of tests and x-rays. Now, a new blood test called anti-CCP is giving doctors hope for early treatment.

Marc Levesque, MD, University of Pittsburgh, Director of Rheumatoid Arthritis Center, explains how they can test for it early, "It turns out that many people with RA have a positive test years in advance of getting the symptoms."

The latest results show the blood test is correct 86 percent of the time. Some doctors argue the RA blood markers could be confused with markers for other autoimmune diseases such as lupus, psoriasis or even a viral infection. Still the test could give doctors the head start they need to treat RA before symptoms appear, and aggressively with a combo of drugs. Robin hopes advances like this one will save others the pain she's suffered.

Nichols explains how much she likes that idea, "And that would be fantastic."

Early warning signs of RA include warmth, swelling and pain in finger joints, wrists and feet. Fatigue, loss of appetite and fever are other symptoms of the condition.

Treatment for RA includes steroids, anti-inflammatories, pain killers and joint replacement surgery.

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