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How is arthritis diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose your arthritis by asking you about your symptoms and how they’ve developed, examining you and possibly arranging for tests to be done.

Symptoms

Your doctor may ask you about the following symptoms:

  • the site of your pain (whether in the joint or between the joints) and which joints are involved
  • any swelling in or around your joints, including warmth, redness and tenderness, which could signal inflammatory arthritis
  • other aspects of your health, as arthritis can affect other organs in your body.

Examination

Your doctor will be able to tell a lot from examining you. They will be looking out for any of these signs:

  • swelling in the joints which may be caused by inflammatory arthritis
  • pain and restricted movement, often with a grating feeling (crepitus), which may indicate degenerative arthritis, such as osteoarthritis
  • tenderness and pain in the soft tissues
  • a rash or mouth ulcers which may occur in some forms of arthritis.

What tests are there for arthritis?

Your doctor might suggest tests to confirm the diagnosis, to rule out other possible causes or to assess the severity of your condition. Tests may include:

  • blood tests – to help make a diagnosis, or to monitor the condition or the drug treatments offered 
  • x-rays – which can show bone abnormalities or damage, but aren't very good for detecting early signs of arthritis
  • a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan – to detect early problems and show inflammation
  • a computerised tomography (CT) scan – which records cross-sections (or 'slices') of the body to give detailed pictures of the skeleton and other tissues
  • an ultrasound scan – which can detect inflammation around the joints (synovitis)
  • synovial fluid analysis – to look at the lubricating fluid from the joints, which can help to detect inflammation, infection and gout
  • a biopsy – where a small amount of tissue is removed and analysed (this is only done when absolutely necessary)
  • a urine test – to help with diagnosis or to monitor drug treatments.

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