Diagnosing Arthritis

Making an arthritis diagnosis involves taking the patient's medical history, performing a physical exam to look for signs of arthritis, and recommending certain tests to help determine whether the person actually has arthritis. A few of the tests that a healthcare provider may recommend include x-rays or other imaging tests, blood tests, and studies of synovial fluid. The healthcare provider will also consider other conditions that can share similar symptoms with some types of arthritis (for example, tendonitis).

An Overview of Diagnosing Arthritis

There is no one specific test that can be used for diagnosing arthritis. Therefore, in order to make an arthritis diagnosis, the healthcare provider will begin by asking a number of questions. This is known as taking a person's medical history. Some of these questions may be related to:
 
  • Recent symptoms, including any fever or other general symptoms
  • Other medical conditions
  • Current medications
  • A history of any trauma
  • A family history of any medical conditions, including arthritis.
     
After asking a number of questions, the healthcare provider will perform a physical exam looking for signs of arthritis. As part of this physical exam, the healthcare provider will examine the joints, skin, reflexes, and muscle strength.
 

Tests Used in Making an Arthritis Diagnosis

After the medical history and physical exam, the healthcare provider may recommend certain tests to help determine whether the patient has one of the many types of arthritis, or another medical condition. Some of the tests that your healthcare provider may recommend include:
 
  • X-rays or other imaging tests
  • Blood tests
  • Other tests.
     
X-Rays or Other Imaging Tests
X-rays are used to determine the degree of joint destruction, if any. They are usually not useful in the early stages of arthritis before bone damage is evident, but they can be used later to monitor the progression of the disease.
 
On occasion, your healthcare provider may recommend a magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI). This test can be used to detect joint and soft-tissue inflammation that cannot be seen on x-rays.
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Arthritis Information

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