The anti-CCP blood test is a recent medical breakthrough that allows doctors to test patients for rheumatoid arthritis. Other tests traditionally used for this autoimmune disease were less exact and were plagued by false positives, making it harder to diagnose patients early. Given the importance of early diagnosis in treating rheumatoid arthritis, the anti-CCP blood test allows doctors to make a diagnosis and begin treatment much sooner than they would otherwise.
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 2.1 million Americans currently have rheumatoid arthritis. The anti-CCP blood test, technically known as the anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody test, can help accurately diagnosis patients with this disease so they can begin early treatment. Cyclic citrullinated peptides are a form of protein. In patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the body begins developing antibodies against these proteins, so the presence of anti-CCP antibodies in the blood points to a diagnosis of this form of arthritis.
Before the development of the anti-CCP blood test, doctors relied on an RF test that indicated the presence of rheumatoid factor antibodies. According to Dr. Joel Rutstein, RF tests are generally reliable, but frequently come back positive for patients with other conditions, such as lupus or Sjogren's syndrome. This makes it more difficult to correctly diagnosis a patient with rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, rheumatoid factor antibodies may not show up in a person's bloodstream until the disease is already well underway, which prevents early treatment. RF tests are still used widely today, but usually in conjunction with an anti-CCP test to confirm the diagnosis.
Unlike other blood tests for rheumatoid arthritis, anti-CCP blood tests are very specific. If you test positive for anti-CCP antibodies, chances are you have rheumatoid arthritis. Unlike rheumatoid factor antibodies, anti-CCP antibodies usually show up in the blood in the very early stages of the disease and sometimes even before the patient has symptoms. This gives doctors a huge advantage in starting early treatment, which is critical. According to the Axis-Shield, the manufacturers of an anti-CCP testing kit, early treatment of rheumatoid arthritis can prevent irreversible damage to the joints and disability.
Several medical studies have indicated that anti-CCP blood tests are highly effective in testing for rheumatoid arthritis. A study published in the British Society for Rheumatology found that, due to its excellent specificity, a positive result on the anti-CCP blood test is a practical confirmation of the diagnosis. The researchers determined this result by testing two groups--one group already diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and another that did not have the disease. They found that those with arthritis overwhelmingly tested positive for anti-CCP antibodies. The same study found that the anti-CCP blood test is not as effective in determining the severity of a patient's arthritis, but the test is still highly useful for its diagnostic ability.
How to Get the Test
Visit your doctor or a rheumatologist if you are experiencing some of the classic symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including joint pain and swelling, stiffness or redness and ask for the anti-CCP test. A rheumatologist will likely test your blood for both the RF and anti-CCP antibodies. Since the anti-CCP blood test is a new medical development, not all doctors may be using it yet.