Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is usually diagnosed after your healthcare provider has taken a careful history of your symptoms and performs a thorough physical examination. There are no definitive laboratory blood tests to make an absolute diagnosis of osteoarthritis, although certain tests, specifically x-rays of the joint, may confirm your healthcare provider’s impression that you have developed osteoarthritis.

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). This joint space is made up of articular cartilage, which becomes thin. 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, may 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 amount 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 , infection).

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.

References:

Arthritis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.arthritis.org/ .

Cecil Textbook of Medicine . 21st ed. W.B. Saunders Company; 2000.

Conn’s Current Therapy . 54th ed. W.B. Saunders Company; 2002.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/ .

Manek NJ, Lane NE. Osteoarthritis: current concepts in diagnosis and management. American Family Physician . 2000;51(6). Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20000315/1795.html.



Last reviewed February 2007 by Robert E. Leach, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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