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Osteoarthritis Diagnosis

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To diagnose osteoarthritis, the doctor will collect information on personal and family medical history, perform a physical examination and order diagnostic tests.

Health History and Symptoms

The information needed to help diagnose osteoarthritis includes:

  • Description of the symptoms
  • Details about when and how the pain or other symptoms began
  • Details about other medical problems that exist
  • Location of the pain, stiffness or other symptoms
  • How the symptoms affect daily activities
  • List of current medications

Physical Examination

During the exam, the doctor will examine the joints and test their range of motion (how well each joint moves through its full range). He will be looking for areas that are tender, painful or swollen as well as signs of joint damage. The doctor will examine the position and alignment of the neck and spine.

Diagnostic Tests

A diagnosis of osteoarthritis may be suspected after a medical history and physical examination is done. Blood tests are usually not helpful in making a diagnosis. However, the following tests may help confirm it:

  • Joint aspiration. The doctor will numb the affected area and insert a needle into the joint to withdraw fluid. The fluid will be examined for evidence of crystals or joint deterioration. This test can help rule out other medical conditions or other forms of arthritis.
  • X-ray. X-rays can show damage and other changes related to osteoarthritis to confirm the diagnosis.
  • MRI. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) does not use radiation. It is more expensive than X-rays, but will provide a view that offers better images of cartilage and other structures to detect early abnormalities typical of osteoarthritis.

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