It usually is not difficult to tell if a person is experiencing osteoarthritis. It’s important that doctors also recognize other potential conditions that can cause similar symptoms. During a trip to your doctor’s office, the doctor will try to identify the cause of symptoms by ruling out other disorders and identifying conditions that may make the symptoms worse.
Start with your primary care or family doctor who can diagnose you. If the disease is severe and reacts to initial treatment, you may be referred a rheumatologist, a specialist in arthritis treatment. Your doctor might also refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon, physical therapist and/or occupational therapist.
The more your doctor knows about you, the faster and better the diagnosis. A medical history is the first diagnostic tool used for osteoarthritis testing. Your doctor will want to know about your health background, including current disease or conditions diagnoses, allergies to medications or other substances, and surgeries and other medical procedures you’ve been through. Be sure mention all the medicines, supplements, and/or herbs that you take for symptom relief. Your doctor might also ask you:
During a medical history, doctors will also ask that you describe pain. You will need to tell the doctor how you feel, where you hurt and have a vocabulary that describes pain accurately. Think about words you can use to describe your pain. Is pain:
When do you normally notice pain and other symptoms? Are symptoms:
Your doctor will also perform a physical exam to assess disease activity. He or she may use X-rays and/or joint aspiration to confirm or strengthen a diagnosis. You may also have to give a little blood for tests that will help the doctor decide what kind of arthritis you may be experiencing.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – An MRI is a more sophisticated process for creating images of abnormalities that can occur due to osteoarthritis. During this procedure, a machine creates a magnetic field to shows more detail of joints without risk of radiation risk. This type of imaging procedure is also useful when diagnosing the cause of pain in the knees, especially in cases of cartilage fracture or torn ligament(s).
X-rays - X-rays are used to highlight damage or other changes to cartilage and bones.
Your doctor will probably use one of the following lab tests to confirm a diagnosis of osteoarthritis:
C-reactive protein test (CRP) — The C-reactive protein is a molecule that increases during acute infections, mostly bacterial infections. However, this test only indicates non-specific inflammation and cannot locate the origin of possible infection. CRP tests are also used to help differentiate between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Complete blood count (CBC) – This is a group of tests that evaluate the red blood cells, white blood cells and hemoglobin. A CBC may be ordered to monitor the side effects of some arthritis treatments.
Comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) – This is a group of tests helps evaluate and monitor kidney and liver function.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (sed rate or ESR) – This test shows the presence of inflammation in the body and may also indicate neoplastic growth.
Joint aspiration (arthrocentesis) - Joint aspiration involves draining fluid from the joint for examination for evidence of crystals or joint deterioration. Joint aspiration can help rule out other medical conditions. This procedure may also be combined with a bacterial culture to distinguish common bacterial infections from osteoarthritis caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Rheumatoid factor (RF) and cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody (CCP) – These tests are used to help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis and differentiate the condition from osteoarthritis.
Synovial fluid analysis – Synovial fluid analysis is used to detect crystals that may be present in the joint and to look for signs of joint infection.
Your doctor also will perform a physical exam to determine diagnosis of osteoarthritis. You may be asked to stand so your doctor can determine how your range-of-motion and mobility have been affected. Common features reported during cases of osteoarthritis include:
Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to controlling osteoarthritis. If you suspect that you are experiencing any form of arthritis, get a proper diagnosis and begin early, aggressive treatment for joint damage. Click here to learn more about treatment for osteoarthritis.
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