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Jan 2024

Rheumatoid factor test: know its purpose, procedure, and results

Posted By Suborna Fermi Posted on Jan 06, 2024

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful and life-long autoimmune condition that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks the health cells of tissues of your body. This autoimmune condition mainly affects the joints in your hands, wrists, knees, feets, ankles, elbows, and shoulders.

Although there is no permanent treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, doctors suggest medications to manage the painful symptoms. In this blog, we cover the purpose, preparations, and results of a rheumatoid factor test.

What is a rheumatoid factor test?

A rheumatoid factor test helps detect the presence of rheumatoid factors in your blood sample to determine whether you have rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid factors (RF) are a type of protein produced by your immune system that can attack the healthy tissues of your body.

Generally, your immune system produces antibodies in response to bacteria or viruses. However, rheumatoid factors are antibodies that occasionally mistakenly attack healthy tissues. The presence of these antibodies indicates that you might have an autoimmune condition.

Doctors generally recommend a rheumatoid factor test along with other tests to confirm rheumatoid arthritis. An elevated level of RF may also indicate certain infections, cancer, and other autoimmune conditions.

What is the purpose of a rheumatoid arthritis test?

A RF test is used to help in the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune conditions. This test can also help to understand the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, and how much the condition is likely to affect the other bodily organs. However, a rheumatoid factor test alone is not used to diagnose RA.

When should I go for this test?

Your healthcare provider may recommend having this test if you are experiencing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The symptoms generally begin in the hands, wrists, and feet. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect the same joint on both sides of your body. For example, if one bone in your one hand is affected, then the same bone on your other hand is also likely to be affected.

The common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness that especially occurs in the morning and linger on for more than 30 minutes
  • Swelling or tenderness of the joint
  • Fever
  • Low appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Dry eyes and mouth

You might also require this test, if you are undergoing tests to diagnose other conditions that cause high RF levels, such as:

  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Scleroderma

Certain infections can also cause high levels of RF, such as:

  • Tuberculosis (Mainly impacts the lungs)
  • Hepatitis C (Affects the liver)
  • Endocarditis (Affects the heart)

Apart from the autoimmune diseases, high levels of rheumatoid factors can also indicate the presence of leukemia which is a cancer of the blood cells.

What preparations do I need for a RF test?

No preparations are required for the test. A healthcare professional will collect a sample of your blood through a vein in your arm.

What do the test results mean?

  • A negative RF test result means that you have little to no rheumatoid factor in your blood sample. If you are having rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and have a negative RF test results, then your doctor might recommend other tests to rule out the cause.
  • A positive RF test result means that high levels of rheumatoid factors have been found in your blood sample. However, only this test result does not necessarily indicate that you have rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor might prescribe you additional tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Also, do remember that a RF test is not used to diagnose osteoporosis. Although both of the diseases affect the joints, they are distinctive to each other. After the diagnosis of the condition, your doctor will suggest treatment to help manage the condition.