Scientists at Britain's Oxford University have developed a blood test that will predict arthritis more than a decade before it strikes. They hope that early diagnosis will allow for better treatment of the disorder.
A team from the university's Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology have developed a blood test that looks for antibodies that recognize the protein tenascin-C, which is found in high levels in arthritic joints.
They say the test will indicate your likelihood of suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, a severe form of the condition, more than a decade in advance.
The disorder, which results in swollen and painful joints, is caused when antibodies sent by the immune system to tackle inflammation mistakenly attack the body's own tissues.
Arthritis is treated with painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs as well as physical therapy.
Existing tests already look for the antibodies but scientists say this new approach allows a more sensitive test that is more likely to spot the antibodies.
Early treatment crucial
Scientists believe the new test will allow doctors to offer early treatment for the autoimmune disorder, which is critical to help manage the pain.
Arthritis is estimated to affect up to 1 percent of the population of the developed world and is almost three times as likely to affect women than men.
"When we looked at results from more than 2,000 patients we found that testing for antibodies that target citrullinated tenascin-C (cTNC) could diagnose rheumatoid arthritis in around 50 percent of cases...it is (also) 98 percent accurate at ruling out rheumatoid arthritis," said lead researcher Dr Anja Schwenzer.
The team found that antibodies to cTNC could be seen up to 16 years before the disease occured - on average around seven years in advance.
Responding to the findings, Stephen Simpson, Research Director, for Arthritis Research UK said: "When it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, early diagnosis is key with research showing that there is often a narrow 'window of opportunity' following the onset of symptoms for effective diagnosis and control of disease through treatment."
Simpson said he hoped the new test could "help patients with rheumatoid arthritis get the right treatment early to keep this painful and debilitating condition under control."
In 2014, German scientists said they had discovered the 'anti-arthritis' protein, which could also lead to better treatment.