Thermal imaging can potentially detect Rheumatoid Arthritis

Both palm and finger temperature increase significantly in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).


Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term, progressive, and disabling autoimmune disease. It occurs when a person’s immune system mistakes the body’s healthy tissues for foreign invaders.

Thermography is an emergent technology that has the potential to become an essential clinical tool in various fields of medicine. In a new study, scientists applied the technology to detect possible temperature variations in various rheumatic disorders.

Through this study, they aimed to determine whether rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients without active synovitis in their hands exhibit different baseline thermographic patterns of the fingers and palms when compared to healthy individuals. The outcomes revealed that thermal imaging has the potential to become an important method to assess Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Dr. Alfred Gatt, from the University of Malta, said, “We used Flir T630 thermal camera and followed the guidelines of the American Thermology Association. The results of our study show that the two probability curves intersect at 31.5 for palm temperatures, indicating that individuals whose palm temperatures are less than 31.5 percent are more likely to be healthy, while those persons whose palm temperature is less than 31.5 are more likely to have Rheumatoid Arthritis. Similarly, for finger temperatures, the two probability curves intersect at 30.3 percent.”

The study involves 82 participants, confirm that both palm and finger temperatures increase significantly in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

Two rheumatologists examined RA patients. A subset of these participants underwent diagnostic ultrasonography by a trained rheumatologist to ensure that the recruited participants had no active signs of synovitis in their hands and wrists.

A subset of these members underwent diagnostic ultrasonography by a trained rheumatologist to guarantee that the enlisted members had no active signs of synovitis in their hands and wrists.

“While ultrasonography had not detected any significant changes in our study population, thermography flagged a possible ongoing disease process by reporting these higher temperatures. We hypothesize that this temperature difference may be attributed to underlying subclinical disease activity or else that the original inflammatory process may cause irreversible thermal changes that persist after the disease activity has resolved. We will need further studies to substantiate this.”

Associate Professor Cynthia Formosa, also from the University of Malta and Visiting Fellow at Staffordshire University, said: “This is the first study to explore thermographic patterns of patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis comparing them to healthy controls. Our results have clearly shown that an RA hand without active synovitis [the medical term for inflammation of the synovial membrane] exhibits higher temperatures when compared to healthy individuals.”

Professor Nachi Chockalingam, Director of Centre for Biomechanics and Rehabilitation Technologies at Staffordshire University, co-authored the study. He added: “Rheumatoid Arthritis affects more than 400,000 adults in the UK, which can lead to deformity, disability, and cardiovascular problems. Timely detection of ongoing synovitis in RA is of paramount importance to help enable tight disease control. However, we know RA can be difficult to diagnose.”

“This work showcases our successful collaboration with colleagues in Malta, and the potential thermal imaging has in helping practitioners to assess the disease. In addition to making some seminal scientific contributions, our collaborative research work informs our curriculum development and teaching.”

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.


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