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Laboratory tests are often helpful in making the diagnosis of a musculoskeletal disorder. For example, the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR—a test that measures the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a test tube containing blood) is increased when inflammation is present. However, because inflammation occurs in so many conditions, the ESR alone does not establish a diagnosis. The level of creatine kinase (a normal muscle enzyme that leaks out and is released into the bloodstream when muscle is damaged) may also be tested. Levels of creatine kinase are increased when there is widespread ongoing destruction of muscle. In rheumatoid arthritis, a blood test to identify rheumatoid factor or anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibody is helpful in making the diagnosis. In systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), a blood test to identify autoimmune antibodies (antinuclear antibodies) is helpful in making the diagnosis.

Laboratory tests are also often useful to help monitor the progress of treatment. For example, the ESR can be particularly useful in helping to monitor the progress of treatment in rheumatoid arthritis or polymyalgia rheumatica.

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