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How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

It’s very important to get a diagnosis from your doctor if you think you have arthritis. There are many different types of arthritis and some need very different treatments.

Osteoarthritis is usually diagnosed based on your symptoms and the physical signs that your doctor finds when examining your joints. Your doctor will check for:

  • joint tenderness
  • creaking or grating (crepitus) sounds
  • bony swelling
  • excess fluid
  • reduced movement
  • joint instability
  • muscle thinning.

What tests are there for osteoarthritis?

Blood tests – There’s no blood test for osteoarthritis, although your doctor may suggest you have them to help rule out other types of arthritis.

X-rays – X-rays are the most useful test to confirm osteoarthritis, although you probably won’t need one. They may show changes such as bony spurs or narrowing of the space between your bones. They’ll also show whether any calcium has settled in your joint.

X-rays can’t really show how much pain or disability osteoarthritis is likely to cause. Some people have a lot of pain from fairly minor joint damage, while others have little pain from more severe damage.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans – Rarely, an MRI scan of your knee can be helpful. This will show the soft tissues (cartilage, tendons, muscles) and changes in your bone that can’t be seen on a standard x-ray. Its main use is to look for another joint or bone problem in someone who doesn’t have the normal symptoms of osteoarthritis, for example, if you have a torn meniscus that causes your knee to ‘lock’ sometimes.


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