Are Your Lab Results “Normal”?

Abstract from The Journal of Rheumatology.

Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate, C-Reactive Protein, or Rheumatoid Factor Are Normal at Presentation in 35%–45% of Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis Seen Between 1980 and 2004: Analyses from Finland and the United States

Objective: To analyze erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP), and rheumatoid factor (RF) tests in 2 databases of consecutive patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) over 25 years between 1980 and 2004, in Finland and the USA.

Methods: Databases of 1892 patients of 7 rheumatologists in Jyväskylä, Finland, and 478 of one author in Nashville, TN, USA, seen in usual care, were reviewed for the first recorded ESR and CRP, and all RF tests.

Results: Median ESR at presentation was 30 mm/h at both sites. Mean ESR was 36 mm/h in Jyväskylä and 35 mm/h in Nashville. ESR was < 28 mm/h in 45% and 47% of patients at the 2 sites, respectively. CRP was normal in 44% and 58%, and all RF tests were negative in 38% and 37%, respectively. Both ESR and CRP were normal in 33% and 42% of patients, and all 3 tests were normal in 15% and 14% of patients in whom they were assessed. All 3 tests were abnormal in only 28% in Jyväskylä and 23% in Nashville.

Conclusion: A majority of patients with RA seen between 1980 and 2004 had abnormal ESR, CRP, or RF. However, more than 37% of patients had ESR < 28 mm/h, normal CRP, or all negative RF tests. Similarities of laboratory test data at 2 sites on different continents with different duration of disease suggest generalizability of the findings. Normal ESR, CRP, and RF are seen in a substantial proportion of patients with RA at this time.

Accepted for publication January 23, 2009.

My lab results have almost always come back “normal”, even during the worst of flares. My rheumatologist jokingly rubs his eyes to make sure he is seeing correctly, but luckily he has never suggested that I don’t have rheumatoid arthritis.

In the past I’ve been told that I was part of the 20% of RA patients that always have a normal sed rate, negative RA Factor, etc. From this study, it looks like that number can be as high as 37%!

If you are part of a health care plan that requires referrals to specialists, and your general doctor refuses to send you to a rheumatologist based on the results of your blood work, be sure to point him/her to this study.

Thanks to Nikki for posting about this topic at RA Connect.

9 Comments
9 comments
  1. Andrew says:

    Glad to hear that both of us fall under the 37% RA patients who have “normal” blood tests! Thanks for posting this information!

  2. Helen says:

    I was diagnosed before this kind of testing was routine, but I also have a negative RH factor. In the past I have had sky-high sed rates, although those have settled down a bit with Enbrel.

    I know a number of people who have had a lot of trouble getting to a specialist because of a negative RH factor. I’ll definitely be pointing this out to them!

  3. Sadie k says:

    I’m not sure i’ve ever been tested for rheumatoid factor… My doctor prefers testing for CCP antibodies, which apparently present earlier and more often in his experience.

    My sed rate is down to normal now that I’m on Humira, but my CRP is still elevated. I’ve always been thankful that my labs confirm my pain- I know it would make me crazy if someone told me I was “normal”.

  4. Kelly says:

    OMG!!!! Thanks God I found you! I thought I was the only one. My bloodwork always comes back fine. I end up feeling like a hypochondriac! I genuinely had no idea…..and after 7 years a rheumy finally said “You have RA”…..I was in no man’s land before this. I thought I was out of the norm. WOW! 37% is a great number! LOL

  5. Lorna says:

    I suffer from pain all over my body. Lately, my hands are the worst. If anything brushes against them, it hurts terribly. My ESR is normal but my RA Factor is 22. I am not currently taking any treatment. I see the Rheumatologist this month. I have tried Methotrexate but have had many side affects. Does anyone have similar experiences? I have not been definitely diagnosed with RA.

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