Arthritis Tests & Diagnosis

Published: April 15, 2010

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Health History

A doctor will begin by asking you routine questions that are related to your personal and family health history. For many types of arthritis and arthritis-related problems, symptoms will run in the family. You can develop a better understanding of your conditions and symptoms based on your family's experiences and medical records.

Your family's medical history can help predict whether you will develop arthritis and at what age. Your personal and family health history can also reveal whether you are at risk for certain conditions that cause arthritis. You may not have started experiencing symptoms, but your doctor will want to screen you as a precautionary measure. Based on your answers, the doctor might choose to conduct the tests or refer to you a rheumatologist, a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating arthritis and related disorders.

Many doctors will ask their patients about arthritis and family history of arthritis as part of a routine health history examination. This way, the doctor can assess your risk level for developing certain problems, even before you experience any symptoms.

If arthritis is diagnosed early, then the prognosis will be more positive, and you will be in a better position to prevent damage to the joints. Even if you do not have arthritis, an early diagnosis will help doctors develop a treatment plan and stop damage before it occurs. Even though arthritis has no cure, the symptoms can be kept under control.

In any case, some types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions cannot be prevented. Regardless, an early diagnosis can help you understand what to expect as your condition progresses. Furthermore, you will be able to determine the rate at which your symptoms are becoming worse.

Physical Exams

A doctor will conduct a physical exam to test your range of motion and flexibility. These tests are part of routine physical exams, so your doctor is able to track any changes over time.

A doctor will check how you are able to rotate your joints. If you have arthritis, you may notice that it is painful when the doctor rotates your joints. The doctor will also test the joint fluid. Especially with autoimmune arthritis, the joint might be sensitive, warm, or swollen.

By feeling your joints, the doctor can check for whether any fluid is accumulating around the joints. If fluid has accumulated, the joint will be sensitive when it is pressed, and it may develop a warm sensation and become red in color.

A physical exam will also help doctors determine whether you are experiencing arthritis or whether you are experiencing symptoms that are similar to another condition that may or may not be closely related.

Joint Fluid Test

A doctor may need to extract joint fluid to confirm arthritis and to determine the cause for pain. After removing the joint fluid, a lab technician will examine the sample under a microscope for a detailed analysis. The sample may reveal crystals or other indicators for what is causing the arthritis.

X-rays

X-rays can show whether conditions such as osteoarthritis, chronic gout, and rheumatoid arthritis have damaged the bones and joints or caused deformities. In general, severe joint damage does not occur until arthritis reaches its later stages. In any case, some patients may not have noticed that they have been living with arthritis.

X-rays can also show whether certain bones are broken or have been broken in the past. These types of injuries, even when healed, can mimic symptoms of arthritis. An injury can also cause arthritis to develop in that particular part of the body.

Early on, especially with rheumatoid arthritis, X-rays do not show damage. Instead, the X-ray will show swelling and diminished joint space. Once the condition advances, the bones will begin to degenerate.

Regular X-rays and imaging tests may be necessary to check the progression of the disease.

Blood Tests

Blood tests can reveal whether or not there is an underlying infection. Blood tests can also check for certain autoimmune conditions and organ damage. Generally, blood tests are part of a routine physical exam. Doctors may order specialized blood tests when they suspect arthritis or when there is a family history of the condition.

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