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Misdiagnosing Joint Pain and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Joint pain can be misdiagnosed as Rheumatoid Arthritis. In this article, we'll find out the measures and how to get to the accurate diagnosis.
By
Updated April 8, 2020
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that can cause joint pain and damage throughout your body. Photo (Shutterstock)

Joint pain is a common symptom that can have many different causes. It can be an associated symptom, but it can also be the primary complaint.

The majority of diseases are complex in nature, with overlapping symptoms that can sometimes mimic other illnesses. Symptoms like joint pain can be easy to misdiagnose. One of the most commonly misdiagnosed is rheumatic diseases.

The physical signs and symptoms can be confused with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). As such, healthcare providers must do a complete check of the patient’s medical history, present symptoms, laboratory tests, and imaging results to correlate and help them come up with a proper diagnosis. Even then, it can be hard to differentiate one from the other.

According to The Tinker Law Firm, diagnostic errors can cause emotional and mental distress to the patients affected.

Self Treatment Contributes to Misdiagnosis

One of the significant causes of misdiagnosis is self-treatment. Often, patients with joint pain self-medicate before they come in for a consultation. They will often take over-the-counter pain relievers to alleviate the pain. While this is okay for acute pain, they are not advised from prolonged pain.

Why is Early Diagnosis Necessary?

Patients suffering from joint pain should consult their doctors as soon as possible. They are the best ones to make a differential diagnosis.

For initial symptoms, you can start by asking a general practitioner. Still, if they find it hard to differentiate from other illnesses, they can refer you to a specialist with more experience with joint pain and its causes. As such, the risk of misdiagnosis is smaller.

Early diagnosis is crucial because, for rheumatoid arthritis, the best time to start treatment is as soon as it is diagnosed. Early treatment can help slow the disease progression and prevent further damage to the joints,

The challenge in diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis lies in the absence of clear-cut symptoms that are considered to be a hallmark of the disease. When a patient presents with inflammatory arthritis like the classic morning stiffness of the hands and feet plus swollen joints, doctors must check for the presence of rheumatoid factor (RF) and anti-CCP antibody.

If the laboratory finding comes back positive, then the diagnosis process is pretty straightforward. However, when the patient does not have indicative swelling or negative markers, then the diagnosis can be quite difficult because it can either be ankylosing spondylitis, bursitis, or bone cancer or it could simply be a broken bone.

How to Get an Early and Accurate Joint Pain Diagnosis

  • Request for a Referral

  • If you visit a general practitioner and you are not satisfied with the diagnosis, you can ask for a referral to a rheumatologist. The referral can also be used to get a second opinion. Specialists have more experience and have access to special tests that can help direct the course of the diagnosis and treatment process.

  • Comply with Additional Tests

  • If the doctor asks you to do additional tests, make sure to comply with it. Sometimes, misdiagnosis can occur when patients fail or refuse to do further laboratory tests to aid in the diagnosis process.

    If your doctor, however, has not requested any and you feel like they are in a bind, you can ask whether some serological tests must be done to make the diagnosis easier. Be assertive, especially if the medications they are giving are doing little to alleviate your pain.

    Remember, it is your body, and your health is at stake. Sometimes, you have to show your doctor how serious your symptoms are to make them look at your condition in a different light.

  • Provide a Complete Medical History

  • Doctors often rely on your medical history to correlate it with your physical exam and laboratory tests. History and physical exams are often the most crucial of all.

    Sometimes, laboratory exams are only confirmation tests to strengthen the basis for the diagnosis. Medical history should guide the treatment process.

    For example, your medical history should include any familial history of the disease. If any of your parents had RA, then your diagnosis of RA is more likely.

    If the doctor fails to ask pertinent questions, make sure to volunteer any information that you think might help in the direction of the diagnosis and treatment process.

Misdiagnosis in the healthcare industry is pretty common, but it is preventable if both the doctor and the patient work together in finding the best solution for the symptoms.

Sometimes, medications can be a trial and error because not everyone does well on the same medications.

The key here is consulting a doctor as early as possible and avoiding self-medication to make sure that the doctor can come up with the most accurate diagnosis possible.

With it, they can formulate the best treatment plan for you and your RA.

Author

Contributor : Melissa Feldman (Joint Health Magazine)

Melissa Feldman writes about a range of lifestyle topics, including health, fitness, nutrition, and the intersection of them all. She has undergraduate degrees in both teaching and psychology. She spent almost 20 years writing and designing English as a Second Language educational materials, including several textbooks. She has presented the cumulative research of many health topics ranging from dietary supplements to joint pain relief products and topical pain reliever. She is skilled at writing compelling articles and producing academic, marketing and creative content. Melissa currently lives in Toronto, Canada and works as an independent research writer. She has more than a decade of experience reviewing and editing publications intended for both public and professional audiences. You can connect with her on Linkedin.

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