Dr Fred Kavalier: A Question of Health

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I had a blood test for arthritis that has come back negative, but I still think I am developing the condition. Can the blood test be wrong or inaccurate?

I had a blood test for arthritis that has come back negative, but I still think I am developing the condition. Can the blood test be wrong or inaccurate?

Blood tests are not the best way to diagnose arthritis. A negative blood test tells you virtually nothing. One form of the disease, rheumatoid arthritis, can often be picked up with a blood test. But this is a relatively rare form of arthritis. There is no blood test for the much commoner form of arthritis, osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis tends to affect the knees, hips, and other large joints. Older people with painful hips and knees usually have osteoarthritis, and not rheumatoid arthritis. Even the blood test for rheumatoid arthritis is not 100 per cent accurate. It's possible to have a positive blood test without any symptoms of the disease, and it's also possible to have the disease with a negative blood test. The Arthritis Research Campaign (www.arc.org.uk) and Arthritis Care (080 8800 4050) both publish excellent information leaflets on arthritis.

Six months ago when I returned from an exhausting trip to India, I started getting mild, needle-like and pinching pains in the muscles of my arms and upper legs. After blood tests, the doctor assures me that there is nothing wrong, yet the pains still continue. I am 47 and otherwise very fit.

Simple muscular pains from an exhausting trip shouldn't last for six months. On the other hand, the pains that you describe don't sound like any serious tropical disease. I would suggest a simple exercise programme to relax and tone up your muscles. If the pains are still there after that, you might want to think about a new set of blood tests, just to make sure that nothing was missed the first time round.

Please send your questions to A Question of Health, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182 or e-mail to health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions

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