Antibody Test Could Spot Rheumatoid Arthritis Early

FRIDAY, Nov. 9 (HealthDay News) -- If primary care doctors tested suspected rheumatoid arthritis patients for key antibodies before their first visit to a rheumatologist, it could help promote earlier diagnosis and treatment of the disease, British researchers report.

Patients with suspected rheumatoid arthritis are often tested for anti-cyclic citrullinated (anti-CPP) antibodies as part of their initial evaluation by a rheumatologist but not by the primary care doctor who may first have detected the condition, the researchers noted.

They retrospectively tested for anti-CPP in the blood samples of 98 newly-diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis patients. The blood samples hadn't been checked for anti-CPP before the patients' first visit with a rheumatologist. The researchers compared the actual treatment strategies without the anti-CPP results to treatment strategies proposed by three rheumatologists and a registered nurse who reviewed the patients' records and were given the retrospective anti-CPP test results.

The study found that prior knowledge of the anti-CPP results would have approximately doubled from seven to 13 the number of patients immediately discharged. It would also have halved (from 45 to 23) the number of patients given a trial of corticosteroids and have increased by 50 percent (from 19 to 28) the number of patients started on disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) at the first rheumatologist visit. Earlier detection of the antibodies would have also led to a more intensive treatment regimen from the outset for eight patients.

"Having the results of this relatively inexpensive test available at the time of their first assessment of patients with a possible early inflammatory polyarthritis would allow rheumatologists to make a faster diagnosis and shorten the delay before treatment starts," lead investigator David O'Reilly, of West Suffolk Hospital, said in a prepared statement.

The study was expected to be presented Nov. 10 at the American College of Rheumatology meeting in Boston.

More information

The Arthritis Foundation has more about rheumatoid arthritis.

SOURCE: American College of Rheumatology, news release, Nov. 7, 2007