Arthritis, which is a common joint inflammation and pain condition, affects almost 10 million people in the U.K. alone. But a new research shows that osteoarthritis, one of the most common types of the condition, can be pre-diagnosed through a blood test two years before its symptoms start to appear.
How Osteoarthritis Develops
Arthritis is one of those painful join conditions that is only diagnosed once the patients complain about the symptoms; by then the disease has already progressed to a late stage and the only way to treat is to replace the joints that cause the pain.
But now, researchers have developed a new way of diagnosing osteoarthritis – a common type of arthritis which affects 8 million people in U.K. – two years before the symptoms appear, through a simple blood test.
Adults over the age of 40 are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, although gender and genetic makeup play a major role in determining its risk. The condition often occurs in women and individuals with family history of osteoarthritis. However, it can even affect young people who have suffered from an injury or have another type of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
The condition develops in the joint’s smooth cartilage lining which becomes rougher and thinner with time, causing ligaments and tendons around it to work harder. This leads to pain and stiffness in joints as well as difficulty in movement.
As the wear and tear continues, the arthritis can cause irreversible damage to the cartilage. In some severe cases, loss of cartilage can cause bones to rub against each other, changing the joint’s natural shape and causing the bone to dislocate from its normal position. This leads to swelling around the affected area and formation of osteophytes (also known as bony spurs).
A Groundbreaking Discovery
Now, the new test could help doctors diagnose osteoarthritis as early as two years before symptoms appear, which gives patients enough time to make necessary changes to their diet and lifestyle to prevent the condition from becoming debilitating later on in life.
The test is almost 98 per cent accurate and requires just one drop of blood from the patient’s body. The sample is sent to the lab to look for a specific protein from joint fragments released into the blood that cause the condition to worsen over the next two years.
A joint research from the University of Warwick and University of Liege three years ago first reported the presence of a protein called glucosepane in arthritis patients. The protein is more likely to be released if there is significant damage to the joints.
The study, conducted on 95 participants – 29 healthy people and 66 with osteoarthritis – showed that those who were in their early stages of joint damage were 38 per cent more likely to show high glucosepane levels in their blood. Osteoarthritis sufferers in late stages of the condition showed six times higher glucosepane concentration than healthy individuals.
Dr Naila Rabbani from the University of Warwick Medical School is hopeful that the new testing method will help bring down the arthritis rate in the country by giving early diagnosis of the condition so that doctors can recommend appropriate precautionary measures to prevent further damage to the cartilage.
Arthritis and Obesity
Arthritis has become more prevalent in the U.K. due to rising obesity rates and lack of physical activity. Extra body weight can put a surprising amount of pressure on our knee joints.
Every 10 pounds of excess weight you carry can add an additional force of 30 to 60 pounds on your knees with each step. Dr. Natalie Carter says that by simply conducting the test on thousands of overweight and obese people can help narrow down individuals who are at a greater risk of developing the condition.
Doctors can then recommend a diet plan and exercise routine to lose weight in order to prevent the osteoarthritis symptoms from getting severe later on in life. The more severe your arthritis becomes, the harder it is to lose weight due to the debilitating joint pain which can make it painful to exercise.