Osteoarthritis (OA) Diagnosis Criteria: Tests and Imaging

It is important to diagnose osteoarthritis because there are more than hundred types of arthritis and many of them have different type of treatments.

Diagnosis of osteoarthritis, whether it be of the knee, hip, spine or the hands,  is simply made from the history of the symptoms and clinical evaluation.

The gradually progressive symptoms of osteoarthritis like pain in the affected joint, which gets worse the more you use the joint and stiffness leading to limitation of movement lasting no longer than thirty minutes will already make the doctor suspect this condition. Again, an advanced age and swelling of the joint will make him pin the diagnosis.

The further guidelines to diagnose osteoarthritis are simple:

  • Imaging (Radiological) tests are done to view the bones directly and
  • Blood tests are done to diagnose the cause of the osteoarthritis.

Imaging (Radiology tests)

X-rays are the most useful tests in  osteoarthritis diagnosis though many a times you will not need one when the symptom are classic.

Plain x-ray

The degenerated cartilage does not show on x-ray, but diagnosis of osteoarthritis is suspected when you see

  • The reduced joint space between the two bones
  • Increased bone formation around the joint called subchondral (beneath the cartilage) sclerosis
  • Formation of subchondral cysts
  • Presence of spurs or osteophytes

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

MRI is usually not required to diagnose osteoarthritis, but it can help to view the soft tissues such as cartilage, tendons, muscles and the neighboring bones to sec changes typical of osteoarthritis both in early and advanced cases. It helps to understand the history of the disease and in drafting the future course of therapies

Laboratory tests

These tests do not help in the diagnosis of osteoarthritis but are required to diagnose the causes of secondary osteoarthritis such as diabetes, gout and bleeding disorders.

  • Blood tests will help to identify the causes of osteoarthritis and also to rule out rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Joint aspiration (Arthrocentesis). The doctor inserts a needle into the affected joint and withdraws fluid from the joint. This fluid is then inspected for evidence of gout, any other infection or inflammation.
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