Raised antibody levels linked to greater risk of rheumatoid arthritis

Individuals with raised levels of an antibody known as rheumatoid factor in their blood have up to a 26-fold greater long term risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, finds a study published in British Medical Journal today.

These findings suggest the need for early referral for examination after a positive rheumatoid factor test – even in the absence of typical arthritic symptoms like pain and swelling in the joints, say the authors.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory joint disorder that affects around 1 per cent of the world's population – women three times more often than men.

No blood test can definitively diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, but a positive rheumatoid factor test can indicate the condition. However, it is not clear whether high levels of this antibody in people without rheumatoid arthritis is associated with later development of the condition.

The authors stress that their study cannot prove that rheumatoid factor plays a causal role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis, but conclude that the findings may lead to revision of guidelines for early referral to a rheumatologist and early arthritis clinics based on a positive rheumatoid factor test – even in the absence of the typical arthritic joint symptoms.

Read the full story on the website of the University of Copenhagen.

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