One study from Holland shows that people who eventually develop rheumatoid arthritis usually have abnormal arthritis blood tests long before they develop joint pains. Rheumatoid arthritis causes continuous joint destruction throughout a person’s lifetime. Joint damage is thought to be caused by an overactive immunity, so the usual treatment is to suppress immunity, which slows joint destruction but does not cure the arthritis. Doctors can delay joint damage by giving drugs to suppress immunity as soon as the disease is diagnosed.
Perhaps all people with a family history of rheumatoid arthritis should get blood tests for arthritis and those with abnormal blood tests should be treated. However, nobody has shown that giving immune suppressive drugs before the onset of symptoms prevents joint damage, and the drugs have very serious and harmful side effects.
My treatment of rheumatoid and reactive arthritis with long-term antibiotics is controversial but has been very effective, particularly if it is done in the early stages of the disease. If you have multiple joint pains, please read my report on arthritis treatments (particularly if you are under 60.)
Arthritis & Rheumatism, August 2004