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Diagnosing Osteoarthritis

Diagnosing osteoarthritis is done by a combination of evaluation of symptoms and diagnostic procedures.

You doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms. The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are:

  • Mild to severe pain in a joint, especially after overuse or long periods of inactivity, such as sitting for a long time. Most commonly affected joints are those in the knee, hip, hand, or spine.
  • Pain usually increases when the joint is used or stressed.
  • Pain is usually decreased by resting the joint.
  • The pain may be described as dull and achy or a sharper, stabbing sensation.

A patient with osteoarthritis may also experience stiffness in joint such as"

  • Stiffness that can make everyday activities difficult, such as leaning down to pick something up, putting on shoes, opening a jar, walking, or climbing stairs.
  • Stiffness first thing in the morning is common, usually lasting under 30 minutes after you resume activity.
  • Stiffness after any period of inactivity is common (such as after sitting still for a couple of hours in a movie theater or on an airplane).
  • Stiffness decreases your range of motion, so that you can't bend or unbend a joint as far as you normally could.

Other symptoms of osteoarthritis include

  • Weakness in muscles around the sore joint. You may have a feeling of instability in the joint. For example, your knee may feel as if it is going to buckle underneath you.
  • You may feel or hear a grating or creaking sound when you bend or unbend your joint.
  • Your joint may develop an abnormal appearance:

    It may be inflamed, red, swollen.
    It may appear misaligned or misshapen.

Tests Used to Diagnose Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is usually diagnosed after your health care provider has taken a careful history of your symptoms and performs a thorough physical examination. There are no definitive laboratory tests to make an absolute diagnosis of osteoarthritis, although certain tests may confirm your healthcare provider's impression that you have developed osteoarthritis. Tests may include:

  • x-ray examination of an affected joint
    A joint that is affected by osteoarthritis will have lost some of the normal space that exists between the bones that make up the joint (the joint space). There may be tiny new bits of bone (bone spurs) visible at the end of the bones. Other signs of joint and bone deterioration may also be present. X-rays, however, will not show very much in the earlier stages of osteoarthritis, even when you are clearly experiencing symptoms.
  • arthrocentesis
    Using a thin needle, your healthcare provider may remove a small bit of joint fluid from an affected joint. The fluid can be examined in a laboratory to make sure that no other disorder is causing your symptoms (such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or infection). The presence of cartilage cells in the fluid may indicate osteoarthritis.
  • blood tests
    Blood tests may be done to make sure that no other disorder is responsible for your symptoms (such as rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases that include forms of arthritis). Researchers are also looking at whether the presence of certain substances in the blood might indicate osteoarthritis and help predict the severity of the condition. These substances include breakdown products of hyaluronic acid (a substance that lubricates joints) and a liver product called C-reactive protein.




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This web site is intended for your own informational purposes only. No person or entity associated with this web site purports to be engaging in the practice of medicine through this medium. The information you receive is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a physician or other health care professional. If you have an illness or medical problem, contact your health care provider.

Arthritis can develop as a result of an infection. For example, bacteria that cause gonorrhea or Lyme disease can cause arthritis. Infectious arthritis can cause serious damage, but usually clears up completely with antibiotics. Scleroderma is a systemic disease that involves the skin, but may include problems with blood vessels, joints, and internal organs. Fibromyalgia syndrome is soft-tissue rheumatism that doesn't lead to joint deformity, but affects an estimated 5 million Americans, mostly women. The approximate number of cases in the United States of some common forms of arthritis. is an informational out reach of the Consumer Health Information Network. It is our goal to provide up to date information about arthritis and other inflammatory and bone conditions in a easy to understand format.

Where we get our information.

Most of the information in the site is compiled by editors from information provided by the National Institutes of Health. We are in the process of updating our pages. In the past we have not made reference to the source for information provide by our editors. In the next few weeks we hope to have all our pages marked as to the source.

We have included information from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Pages that uses information from this source are so acknowledged.

We have contributing authors that send information. Where information is provided by an outside author it is acknowledged by a byline under the title.

Updates of Pages.

Not all of our pages have a date as to the last update. We are in the processes of reviewing all our pages and as we do we include a reference as to when the page was updated. This web site was first published in January of 2003. All pages in the site were created at sometime during or after that time.