Doctors may be able to identify women with a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) through elevated inflammation biomarkers in their blood. New research has shown that the biomarkers may be found years before symptoms appear.
Elizabeth Karlson, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and her colleagues, examined blood samples taken from the Women’s Health Study and the Nurses’ Health Study.
The researchers identified 170 women who had no symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis when the blood samples were taken but later developed the disease. The researchers then matched each RA case with three women with similar attributes who did not develop rheumatoid arthritis.
The researchers used stored blood samples to test for and compare the levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) and soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor II (sTNFRII) in the two groups of women.
What they found was that the proteins called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and IL-6 were elevated prior to the development of RA symptoms. These biomarkers were elevated up to 12 years before the women developed RA symptoms and were associated with a 200% increase in the risk of developing RA. Both of these proteins are elevated in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
The authors wrote in the March issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism:
“These results could have implications with regard to screening for biomarkers of inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis risk that could be used for risk counseling or for targeted interventions to prevent rheumatoid arthritis.”