Diagnosing arthritis may be difficult. Many symptoms are similar among the different conditions affecting the joints. To make an accurate diagnosis, a doctor may need to conduct the following:
Review your medical history and current symptoms
Examine you, paying close attention to your joints
Order laboratory tests, X-rays, and other imaging tests
What is involved in reviewing your medical history and your current symptoms?
When reviewing your medical history, your health care provider may ask the following questions:
Have you had any illnesses or injuries that may explain the pain?
Is there a family history of arthritis or other rheumatic diseases?
What medication(s) are you currently taking?
Your health care provider may also ask:
What symptoms are you having? For example, pain, stiffness, difficulty with movement, or swelling.
About your pain:
Where is it?
How long have you had it?
When do you have pain and how long does it last?
Describe your pain. (Constant, dull, throbbing, stabbing)
How intense is it? (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no pain, and 10, the worst pain)
What lessons the pain?
What makes it worse?
What is involved in laboratory testing?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, the following are common laboratory tests:
Antinuclear antibody. This test measures blood levels of antibodies, which may be present in persons with some types of arthritis.
Arthrocentesis (also called joint aspiration). This is an exam of joint fluid. A thin needle is inserted into the joint. Fluid is removed the fluid with a syringe and examined.
Complement tests. This test measures the level of complement, a group of proteins in the blood. It is used to help diagnose and monitor systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis.
Complete blood count. Measures the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets present in a sample of blood. A low white blood count (leukopenia), low red blood count (anemia), or low platelet count (thrombocytopenia) are associated with some forms of arthritis or the medications to treat them.
Creatinine. A blood test to monitor for underlying kidney disease.
C-reactive protein. This is a protein that is elevated when there is inflammation in the body as in some types of arthritis.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (also called ESR or sed rate). Thismeasures how quickly red blood cells fall to the bottom of a test tube. It is also elevated when there is inflammation in the body. This occurs in some types of arthritis.
Hematocrit (PCV, packed cell volume). Measures the number of red blood cells present in a sample of blood. Low levels of red blood cells (anemia) are common in people with some types of arthritis.
Rheumatoid factor. Checks for an antibody that is present in most people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Urinalysis. Laboratory examination of urine to check for kidney disease that may be associated with several types of arthritis.
Uric acid. It is elevated in gout.
What imaging techniques may be used to diagnose arthritis?
Imaging techniques may give your physician a clearer picture of what is happening to your joint(s). Imaging techniques may include the following:
X-ray. X-rays may show joint changes and bone damage found in some types of arthritis. Other imaging tests may also be done.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI images are more detailed than X-rays. They may show damage to joints, including muscles, ligaments, and cartilage.
Arthroscopy. This procedure uses a thin tube containing a light and camera (arthroscope) to look inside the joint. The arthroscope is inserted into the joint through a small incision. Images of the inside of the joint are projected onto a screen. It is used to evaluate any degenerative and/or arthritic changes in the joint; to detect bone diseases and tumors; to determine the cause of bone pain and inflammation, and to treat certain conditions.