How to diagnose Osteoarthritis

By  , Expert Content
Jan 21, 2013

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Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects older adults (people over 50 years of age). Currently there is no definitive test to diagnose the condition and your doctor will take a complete medical history and do examination of your joints and muscles to diagnose the probable cause of your symptoms. Osteoarthritis is basically a clinical diagnosis and tests may be recommended only if your doctor wants to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms, such as rheumatoid arthritis or a fractured bone.


[Read: What does Osteoarthritis mean?]


Osteoarthritis is suspected clinically if you:

  • are over 50 years of age
  • have joint pain, which worsen through the day with use of the joints
  • stiffness is not a major problem or even if you have stiffness it lasts no longer than half an hour.


[Read: Risk Factors of Osteoarthritis]


Medical history and physical examination: Your doctor may ask questions regarding location of the pain, time and pattern of the pain, stiffness of the joint and any other associated symptoms. Tests such as X-rays or blood tests, imaging studies, joint fluid analysis may be done if your doctor wants to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.

Imaging Studies: Your doctor may recommend imaging tests like x-rays (radiographs), MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans) or CT scan.


  • X-rays: Many people with changes of osteoarthritis on x-rays may have symptoms such as pain or swelling. The X-rays changes of osteoarthritis include narrowing of the space between the joint (articular surface), osteophytes, cyst formation, and hardening of the underlying bone. However changes of osteoarthritis on x-rays are observed late in the course of disease.


  • CT scan: CT scans provide more precise and detailed information about bones, joints and soft tissuesthan plain x-rays. Bone and jointchanges of osteoarthritis are observed earlier on CT scan as compared to X-rays.


  • MRI: This study is a painless, non-invasive complex, imaging technique which provides better information of the bones, joint and surrounding tissue than X-rays. All structures within the joint can be visualized on MRI. But an expert is needed to interpret the images.


[Read: Treatment for Osteoarthritis]


Joint fluid analysis: Your doctor may take fluid from the affected joint in case the diagnosis is uncertain or if an infection is suspected.

Blood tests: Currently there are no blood tests or marker for this disease that can diagnose OA. Blood tests may be done if infection is suspected.


Read more articles on Osteoarthritis



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