This lesson provides a definition of the condition known as seronegative rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes joint pain.
We will also cover some of the known treatments for this condition.
What is Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis?
You’re reading this lesson because you’re wondering about the condition known as seronegative rheumatoid arthritis. But first, a question: Is there even such a thing as seronegative rheumatoid arthritis? In a sense, no. But we should start at the beginning and provide some explanation!Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a condition that causes pain in the joints and can range from mild to very severe. Have you ever heard a grandparent complain about achy joints from arthritis? This is likely different than RA, which is an autoimmune disorder, making it different than the type of arthritis that sets in due to old age.
Broadly, autoimmune disorders are a group of diseases that affect the body by causing a person’s immune system to attack itself. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the body attacks the lining of the joints–for example, in your hands or knees–resulting in pain and swelling.
Understanding the Term ‘Seronegative’
So wait, didn’t we say that seronegative rheumatoid arthritis might not exist? We did, and here’s why we: ‘Seronegative‘ is actually a generic medical term and does not relate explicitly to rheumatoid arthritis. It simply refers to any blood test that comes back negative.
When a person is suspected to have rheumatoid arthritis, a doctor will perform a blood test to check for the presence of two types of antibodies associated with this condition: the rheumatoid factor and anti-CCPs (anti-cyclic citrullinated peptides).(An aside: An antibody is simply a protein used by the immune system to attack invaders, like bacteria. In people with auto immune disorders, antibodies mistakenly target healthy cells).
The rheumatoid factor and anti-CCPs are antibodies that attack healthy tissue. They are present in high levels in the bodies of patients with RA.The rheumatoid factor was one of the earliest ways for doctors to discover if a person was suffering from RA. The anti-CCP method is newer and can help a doctor determine if a patient suffers from RA much earlier in the course of the disease.
Basically, these antibodies tell us how likely we are to experience inflammation, the hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis.If this blood test comes back positive, then the person is likely to have seropositive RA. However, in the case of seronegative rheumatoid arthritis, a patient has many of the symptoms associated with seropositive RA, but the blood test is negative for the antibodies.Now, doctors believe that it’s still possible to have RA with a seronegative test, but it is more difficult to diagnose with certainty in this case. These patients simply have a much lower rheumatoid factor than patients diagnosed with seropositive RA. Seropositive patients are also more likely to have more severe symptoms than those diagnosed with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms of Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis
There are a number of different symptoms that present with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis.
The most common are swelling and pain in the joints. Patients may experience stiffness, especially first thing in the morning, that lasts well into the day. X-rays can help a doctor see if there is damage to the bone surrounding inflamed joints, a sign of arthritis. Joint deformity can also occur in severe cases, as prolonged swelling causes damage to joints. Additionally, patients might experience fatigue and have reduced range of motion.
Treatments for Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis
Treatment for this condition has made progress in recent years, but rheumatoid arthritis remains incurable. Rather, doctors seek to help patients maintain remission, or a period in the progression of a disease in which symptoms are hardly noticeable and patients lead normal lives. Exercise is an important component of staying healthy with RA–it can be used to effectively reduce some of the symptoms, including pain and swelling. A diet rich in complete nutrients may help ease some symptoms, and a doctor may also recommend physical therapy to aid with stiff and swollen joints.
In serious cases, joint replacement surgery may be required.Reducing inflammation is very important in controlling RA. Doctors will sometimes prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids to reduce joint swelling, which is also an effort to stop further damage before more serious treatment, such as surgery, becomes necessary.
Seronegative rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that results in the body attacking the joints. This causes pain and swelling and, in severe cases, can cause deformation of the joints. Seronegative rheumatoid arthritis just means that a patient does not have a high level of antibodies that indicate inflammatory processes in the body. In patients with seropositive RA, these antibodies are present at much higher levels.
However, this does not mean that patients with seronegative RA do not have symptoms! They are likely to experience pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints. These can be helped by exercise, diet, and/or medication.