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Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Be Misdiagnosed?

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Be Misdiagnosed?

Has joint pain made your mornings miserable and do you suspect rheumatoid arthritis? Well, it’s better to get diagnosed properly by a rheumatologist, or you might be self-medicating for RA but have some other illness that has similar symptoms. 

So, can rheumatoid arthritis be misdiagnosed? Yes. And it happens more often than you think. In fact, almost half of people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis may actually have another condition, according to a study in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.

Let’s look into the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and diseases that have similar signs and symptoms. This will help you understand your condition and you can make an informed decision well on time. 

Dive in and know all about RA and the illnesses that mimic its symptoms. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis – An Overview 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a degenerative, autoimmune condition that affects the lining of your joints. The joints start deteriorating and this causes swelling and pain. The symptoms worsen when you wake up in the morning. 

The immune cells not only attack the joints but also harm vital organs such as the lungs and heart. That’s why it’s important to get the right diagnosis right after you start experiencing the symptoms. 

With an apt diagnosis and treatment, you can control your symptoms and stop the deterioration of joints in the long run. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis 

NO one test can tell us whether a patient has RA or not. The doctor first listens to your symptoms, asks you questions, analyzes you physically, and then performs different tests that rule out other diseases and confirm the presence of RA. 

You might be asked to get your blood tests and imaging tests to see if you have rheumatoid arthritis. 

It’s important to be assertive and ask questions when in doubt. Tell each and every symptom and also your other health issues that aren’t related to RA. As a patient, you should make decisions based on your doctor’s advice but never be afraid of taking second opinions or requesting a doctor to perform other tests if you aren’t certain. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis test

As said earlier, there is no definitive test that can help diagnose RA. But certain blood tests can help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. 

One of the blood tests is erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) which can tell us the level of inflammation in the body. 

Another test is the C-reactive test which can also help us assess inflammation levels. 

Other than that, a blood count is done to rule out other conditions. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis criteria 

The doctor evaluates all the test results and looks for high levels of inflammation in the body, rules out other diseases, and diagnoses RA. 

If your doctor is still uncertain, they will perform imaging tests to look for joint wear and tear and then decide the course of treatment. 

What’s a rheumatoid factor and how does it help in the diagnosis 

Rheumatoid factor autoantibody in the blood that should be present in the normal range of 0-20 IU/ml. A higher range of rheumatoid factors indicates any autoimmune disease including RA. 

This means if your rheumatoid factor is positive then you MIGHT have rheumatoid arthritis but again, it’s not a litmus test for RA. 

Unusual symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis might cause misdiagnosis 

RA is not just the inflammation of joints. The autoimmune system causes more harm than you think. Your whole body might start reacting to the immune system and that results in damaging the vital organs.

That’s why you might experience unusual symptoms that are actually related to RA. Some of these symptoms include: 

  • Hearing problems 
  • Skin rash 
  • Breathing problems 
  • Chest pain 
  • Chronic cough 
  • Numbness of fingers and toes
  • Gum diseases 
  • Tingling sensation 

If not rheumatoid arthritis: What else could it be? 

You and your doctor should sit together and work to figure out whether the diagnosis is right. If not, then you might have one of the following illnesses. 

Please note that it’s not necessary that you have any of these conditions as all these illnesses need a proper diagnosis for the right treatment. 

Osteoarthritis misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis 

Osteoarthritis also shows almost the same symptoms as RA and so the patient might be misdiagnosed. The main difference between osteoarthritis and RA is that the swelling and pain in RA lasts much longer than osteoarthritis.


Gout misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis 

If Gout isn’t treated properly then it can turn into a chronic condition called polyarthritis. The symptoms of this condition mimic that of RA. A uric acid test is done for the diagnosis of gout.


Lupus misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis 

Both lupus and RA can show symptoms like swelling, pain, and joint stiffness. So rheumatoid arthritis might be misdiagnosed in this case. But lupus has its own distinct symptoms that differ it from RA. So, your healthcare provider should keenly investigate the symptoms before making any diagnosis.  

Psoriatic arthritis misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis 

No blood test can diagnose psoriatic arthritis. It can only be diagnosed through physical assessment and inflammation in the body. So RA can be misdiagnosed as psoriatic arthritis as well.


Viral arthritis misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis 

Some viral infections cause joint pain similar to RA. That’s why a provider can misdiagnose a patient. A proper and thorough examination should be done before coming to any conclusion. Usually, viral arthritis goes away after some duration, unlike RA. 

Cancer misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis

Early cancer symptoms might be similar to RA, including fever, body aches, and joint swelling. Differential diagnosis should be carried out carefully to rule out cancer or detect the presence of a malignant tumor to start treatment ASAP. 

Can MS be mistaken for rheumatoid arthritis

Similar symptoms of RA and multiple sclerosis (MS) are numbness, tingling sensation, weak muscles, fatigue, vision problems, and difficulty in walking. Rheumatoid arthritis and MS (multiple sclerosis) are both autoimmune diseases so it’s difficult to differentiate between them at first. But RA is characterized by persistent joint pain, swelling, and stiffness that won’t go away. 

Can bone cancer be mistaken for rheumatoid arthritis

Usually bone cancer develops in the long bones, mimicking the symptoms of RA. The symptoms that are similar for both RA and bone cancer are pain and stiffness, inflammation, and fever. Differential diagnosis should be carried out to rule out one. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment 

After rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed, now is the time to get apt treatment to reduce the symptoms and manage the illness in the best possible way. 

Home remedies

  • Keep yourself warm 
  • Don’t forget to move, especially in the mornings. Hit the gym or follow the exercises advised by your physiotherapist. Or just take a walk daily to keep yourself moving. Follow these rheumatoid arthritis treatment exercises to reduce pain.
  • Consume healthy food and keep away from junk. Read to know: What Foods Not to Eat with Arthritis?
  • Apply a hot pack to the aching and stiff joints to make them more flexible. You can apply a hot pack on the joints for 25 minutes every couple of hours. Apply a cold pack alternatively to reduce inflammation
  • Take a hot shower to soothe your joints 


If the pain doesn’t go away then ask your doctor to recommend painkillers that you can take. Your doctor might prescribe NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, to ease your pain. Remember that these medicines just give you relief for a few hours and then the symptoms come back. 

Alternative treatment – Laser Pain Therapy 

Laser pain therapy is a proven way to get rid of joint pain and stiffness in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis in humid weather. You can take a few sessions of this modern therapy in humid weather to ease pain and move your joints freely. 

A safe laser beam is directed to your aching joints by a rheumatologist. This stimulates a natural healing mechanism in the body and makes your joints pain-free. The treatment includes various sessions. 

If you’re in Pakistan and looking for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis through laser therapy then head to our advanced pain management clinic—BioFlex Pakistan. You’ll get the maximum benefit from this treatment because we guarantee: 

  • Advanced laser devices 
  • Experienced rheumatologists who have treated various patients successfully 
  • Modern treatment with no side effects reported yet 
  • Cooperative staff
  • No hidden charges 

Click to know more about our Arthritis treatments in Pakistan, or book your appointment to get rid of the pain and swelling of joints in cold and humid weather.

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