If you’ve been told that you have seronegative rheumatoid arthritis, you’re probably wondering exactly what that is. It’s not unusual for your doctor to not fully explain it to you. All that you’ll usually be told is that you did not test positive for the rheumatoid factor. The rheumatoid factor is an immunoglobulin antibody that is found in the blood of around 80% of people with rheumatoid arthritis and is a common diagnostic tool for the disease. However, a certain number of people with the symptoms of the disease no not have this antibody. If that describes you, what does it mean for your prognosis?
First of all, this antibody is found in about 1 to 2% of perfectly healthy people, and it increases in incidence with people above the age of 65. Seronegative rheumatoid arthritis is also found far more frequently in people with the juvenile form of the disease (acquired in childhood). The longer someone has the disease, the greater likelihood there is for the antibody to appear, though in some people it never appears.
The one major difference that medical studies have found is that people with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis seem to have less overall joint erosion and damage than people who test positive for the antibody, and usually do not develop nodules under the skin, as the positive group tends to do. Otherwise, the symptoms and progress of the disease appears to be similar in both groups. So, if you test negative for the antibody, you will still likely experience joint swelling, stiffness, and damage, but not to as great a degree as those who test positive. It may be small comfort, but it is some consolation nonetheless. If you are negative, appreciate the fact that you’ve been given somewhat of a reprieve–your symptoms, though they are there, could have been much worse, so you are among the lucky group that may be able to retain your joint function and independence longer than other patients with the disease, maybe even throughout your entire life.
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