Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in one or more joints. In the UK, more than 10 million people have arthritis or other similar conditions that affect the joints.Arthritis typically affects older people over 65 but it can affect people of all ages, including children.
Arthritis is more common in women than men and in people who are overweight – so managing your weight is important.
There are over 100 different types of arthritis but the two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, affecting nearly 9 million people. It tends to affect the hands, spine, knees and hip.
Osteoarthritis initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. This makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness. Once the cartilage lining starts to roughen and thin out, the tendons and ligaments have to work harder. This can cause swelling and the formation of bony spurs called osteophytes.
Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bone rubbing on bone, altering the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position.
OA most often develops in adults who are in their mid-40s or older (but it can occur at any age). It’s also more common in women and people with a family history of the condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an immune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks joints, which leads to pain and swelling. In the UK, RA affects more than 400,000 people. It often starts when a person is between 40 and 50 years old. Women are three times more likely to be affected than men.
The outer covering (synovium) of the joint is the first place affected. This can then spread across the joint, leading to further swelling and a change in the joint’s shape. This may cause the bone and cartilage to break down. RA can eventually lead to the destruction of both bone and cartilage inside the joint.
People with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body.
The exact cause of the immune system’s attacks is unknown. But scientists have discovered genetic markers that increase your risk of developing RA five-fold.
There are many other types of arthritis and many of these are associated with other underlying conditions:
As mentioned, there are over 100 different types of arthritis with their own causes. We’ll be looking at OA and RA.
Most arthritis can be linked to a breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue in your joints that acts as a shock absorber and cushion. Cartilage may break down as a result of:
Symptoms of arthritis include:
No blood test can definitively prove or rule out a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, but several tests can show indications of the condition.
The Arthritis Risk test comprises several screens for: C-reactive protein, full blood count and rheumatoid factor
C-reactive Protein (CRP) is a biomarker that can indicate the presence of infection and inflammation. (CRP should not be confused with hs-CRP, which measures the same biomarker at very low levels to assess cardiovascular disease risk).
Whenever inflammation occurs somewhere in your body – whether acute or chronic – the affected tissue sends a signal to your liver (via small molecules) to release C-Reactive Protein (CRP) into your bloodstream. CRP is thought to prime the immune system to help with a rapid response against pathogens.
Levels of CRP increase very rapidly in response to trauma, inflammation, and infection and decrease just as rapidly when the condition is resolved. So, CRP levels is widely used to monitor inflammation.
A high level of CRP in the blood is a marker of inflammation. It can be caused by a wide variety of conditions, from infection to cancer. High CRP levels can also indicate that there’s inflammation in the arteries of the heart, which can mean a higher risk of heart attack. However, CRP tests are nonspecific, and CRP levels can be elevated in any inflammatory condition.
It’s important to measure your CRP levels as it detects chronic inflammation and chronic inflammation is a warning sign that something’s wrong in your body. Chronic inflammation is connected with more extreme health conditions, such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, atherosclerosis, and cancer to name a few.
Another reason why you should get tested is because chronic inflammation can happen slowly and/or be dismissed as something minor. Months and years can go by without the true underlying cause being identified. All the while, the inflammation can be damaging your health.
Also known as a Complete Blood Count, the FBC is a comprehensive blood test that screens components of your blood including:
An FBC can help:
We talk about the Full Blood Count in detail, here.
Rheumatoid factor (RF) is a protein naturally present in your blood. It is made by your immune system, but can mistakenly identify your own tissue as “foreign” and cause an attack on your own body.
RF is a type of “autoantibody” found in the blood. We all have antibodies (also known as immunoglobulins) in our blood, which are protective proteins which defend the body against infection, particularly from bacteria. However, “autoantibodies” may attack the patient’s own tissues mistakenly identifying them as invaders.
While the role of RF is not well understood, it may not directly cause joint damage, but promote the body’s inflammation reaction which in turn causes the ensuing damage.
The RF test is sensitive but not very specific, it can be found in diseases other than RA which is why it’s only one of three tests. RF is most closely associated with RA. 80% of people with rheumatoid arthritis will have elevated RF levels. So rheumatoid factor (RF) testing is a useful tool to help identify the presence of this autoimmune condition.
However, RF may also be present in other autoimmune disorders and some persistent bacterial and viral infections. It can also be found in a small but significant percentage of healthy people particularly in the elderly.
Order an Arthritis Risk Kit. Our Anaemia home blood test kit checks your blood’s ability to transport oxygen and measures your iron levels and essential B vitamins. If you have anaemia you lack sufficient healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body’s tissues. This makes you feel tired and weak.
Get the convenience of home testing with the reassurance of professional clinical analysis. Your results are delivered quickly and securely online.
Although there’s no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, early treatment and support (including medicine, lifestyle changes, supportive treatments and surgery) can reduce the risk of joint damage and limit the impact of the condition.
Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis can help reduce inflammation in the joints, relieve pain, prevent or slow down joint damage, reduce disability and enable you to be as active as possible. They include:
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