Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory condition that primarily affects your joints. The most common form is seropositive RA.
A person with this condition has antibodies in their blood that help identify the disease. These antibodies are called anti-cyclic citrullinated peptides (anti-CCPs) or rheumatoid factors (RF). Either or both of these can be present. Their presence is associated with inflammation of the joints and the onset of RA symptoms.
Those with seronegative RA don’t have these antibodies present but still display symptoms of classic RA.
Those with seropositive RA have similar symptoms to seronegative RA, but they are generally more severe and cause greater deformities.
Both seropositive and seronegative RA have a particular group of symptoms that can come and go over time. People with RA will usually test positive for rheumatoid factor within 1 year of developing symptoms.
Anti-CCPs are more sensitive and can show up years before you display any symptoms. The symptoms specific to RA include:
- swelling and pain in several joints, especially those of the hands and feet
- stiffness in the morning lasting around 45 minutes
- deterioration of the cartilage and bone (determined by X-rays)
- development of firm lumps under the skin near to the joints (rheumatoid nodules)
There are some other symptoms of RA that are shared with unrelated conditions. These include:
- a slight fever
- frequent infections
- constant fatigue
- eye inflammation
- dry eyes and mouth
Your blood will be tested to see if anti-CCPs or rheumatoid factors are present. If the test comes back positive, there’s a 70 to 80 percent chance you’ll receive an RA diagnosis.
A positive result may also indicate other conditions. Therefore, testing positive isn’t enough for a doctor to give a full diagnosis. A full diagnosis also requires you to display the symptoms and signs of RA.
X-rays showing cartilage and bone deterioration can be helpful in confirming a full diagnosis, especially if joint damage (erosion) is present. Additional blood tests can be done to test the level of inflammation in the joints.
People with seropositive RA are likely to have more severe symptoms than those who are seronegative, though this isn’t true in all cases.
People with seropositive RA are more likely to develop:
- rheumatoid nodules
- rheumatoid lung issues
They’re also at greater risk for developing associated conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.
Despite this, the progression of the disease varies greatly and is dependent upon many factors. Therefore, it’s impossible to predict a precise prognosis.
As there’s currently no cure for seropositive RA, treatment focuses on managing pain and inflammation and preventing further damage to the joints.
Traditionally, treatment for seropositive RA can include a combination of therapy, home care, medication, and surgery.
Paramedical specialists in RA management, physical therapists and occupational therapists, can help change daily habits in order to reduce stress on joints.
There are special tools and devices available to assist with daily functioning while limiting any further damage to joints.
It’s recommended that those with seropositive RA exercise regularly. Exercise helps to keep your joints movable and build strength in your muscles.
If you’re experiencing a flare-up, it can help to alternate between cold and hot compresses to control the pain and inflammation.
The most commonly used class of medication to help with seropositive RA is disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) therapy. This class of drugs can slow the development of RA and help to prevent further joint damage. The DMARD that many people have heard of is methotrexate.
You can also take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to help manage pain and inflammation.
Steroid medications like prednisone are also effective in managing major inflammation flares and should be monitored and tapered to the lowest possible dose and discontinued as soon as flares are controlled.
When the damage to joints is extreme, you may consider surgery. Some procedures can help improve mobility and reduce pain in severely deformed joints. Sometimes it’s necessary for the joints to be completely replaced.
However, there’s the potential for complications, like infections, with surgery. For this reason, surgery is only undertaken in cases where the benefits are deemed to outweigh the risks.
People with seropositive RA are at a greater risk for developing associated conditions, particularly if their condition isn’t well managed. Some of the conditions associated with seropositive RA are:
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- widespread inflammation
- joint damage
- cardiovascular and pulmonary disease
- cervical myelopathy
- eye inflammation
As previously mentioned, there’s no cure for seropositive RA. But by effectively managing the condition, you can go on to enjoy a good quality of life.
You should speak with your doctor as soon as you begin to experience any of the noted symptoms of seropositive RA, as an early diagnosis and targeted treatment will mean less damage to your joints and slower progression of the disease.