Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis

If you’ve experienced pain or stiffness in one of your joints, it’s important to see your doctor to determine if you have osteoarthritis, another form of arthritis, or another condition.

There’s no single definitive test that your doctor can perform to confirm a diagnosis of osteoarthritis. However, based on your medical history and symptoms, an accurate diagnosis can usually be made. Sometimes additional tests are used to rule out other types of arthritis or other issues.

Personal and Medical History

During your examination, your doctor will consider your personal and medical history as well as your symptoms. If you’re older than 45 or 50 and are experiencing joint pain and stiffness, your doctor may suspect osteoarthritis, especially if you have close relatives who also have the disease. You’ll want to be able to describe the pain and let your doctor know if it gets worse when you use your joints more. Morning stiffness that lasts less than 30 minutes may also point to osteoarthritis.

Physical Examination

Your doctor may also conduct a physical examination to look for further clues. He or she may listen for creaking or grating sounds when you move your joint and check for signs of stiffness or a limited range of motion. Evidence of muscle thinning or excess fluid will also cause your doctor to suspect osteoarthritis.

Armed with this information, your doctor will either make a diagnosis of osteoarthritis or order tests to rule out other conditions if he or she suspects another cause for your symptoms. These may include one or more of the following:

Blood Tests

A blood test can’t confirm a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, but it can rule out other diseases that may cause the disease as a secondary condition. It can also rule out some other types of arthritis.

X-Ray

An X-ray will allow your doctor to look for changes such as the formation of bony spurs, roughening or thickening of your joint, or calcium that’s settled in your joints. It will also reveal if you have a smaller than normal amount of space between your joints, indicating that you may have lost some protective cartilage. An X-ray can also rule out other diseases that can affect your joints as well as the possibility that a fracture is causing your symptoms.

MRI

An MRI scan can be used to determine if another joint or bone problem is causing your symptoms. It shows soft tissues as well as changes in your bone that aren’t shown on an X-ray.

Arthrocentesis

Your doctor can use a needle to remove fluid from your affected joint. It can then be analysed to rule out gout or other conditions.

Keeping good track of your symptoms and talking to your doctor about them is the first step in diagnosing osteoarthritis. Your doctor may order additional testing to rule out other issues as needed and will start you on an appropriate treatment plan.