Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that affects the protective
tissue covering the ends of your bones (cartilage). With this condition, the cartilage
breaks down or wears away. This creates friction between bones under cartilage and
causes pain and swelling in the affected joints.
Osteoarthritis affects approximately 27 million people in
the United States, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin
Diseases (NIAMS). The disease can develop in older people and
younger people, but it's most common in people over 65. Risk factors for
- sports injury
- joint overuse
There’s no cure, but treating the condition can reduce
symptoms and help you maintain an active lifestyle. After diagnosis, your
doctor can recommend a treatment plan based on the severity of your symptoms.
No single test can diagnose osteoarthritis. Your doctor will
complete several tests to determine whether you have this condition or a
Because osteoarthritis symptoms can be similar to other
arthritic and inflammatory diseases, your doctor will need to know details
about your condition. You’ll also need to answer questions about your medical
history and family history, and provide a list of all current medications.
Doctors usually complete a physical examination to check
your muscle strength and reflexes. They may also check your joints for swelling
or tenderness. You may be asked to complete simple activities during your
appointment like walking across the room or bending over. This helps your
doctor assess joint mobility.
a physical examination alone doesn’t provide answers. Your doctor may recommend
an imaging test to capture a picture of the affected joints and pinpoint the
cause of symptoms.
X-rays cannot create an image of cartilage, but they can
show cartilage loss and bone damage. This test helps your doctor diagnose
arthritis and determine the type of arthritis.
An X-ray machine uses an electromagnetic wave of high-energy
and shortwave lengths to create an internal digital image of the body. An X-ray
of affected joints takes about 10 to 15 minutes. No special preparation is
needed for this imaging test. But you may need to remove jewelry and clothes,
and you should tell the technician if you’re pregnant.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
If you’re experiencing pain and an X-ray image doesn’t show
cartilage loss, your doctor may recommend an MRI. This test creates a
computerized image of soft tissue and bones using radio waves and a strong
magnetic field. Your doctor can evaluate joint damage in different parts of
your body, such as the hips and knees. This helps determine if osteoarthritis
causes swelling and inflammation.
It takes between 30 minutes and two hours to complete an MRI
scan, depending on the number of images taken by the technician. No special
preparation is necessary for an MRI. You may need to remove your clothes and
wear a hospital gown during the scan.
The scan takes place inside a tube-like machine. Tell your doctor if you have a fear of
enclosed spaces (claustrophobia). You may be able to complete testing at a
facility that has an open MRI.
Since other diseases have symptoms similar to osteoarthritis
your doctor may order blood tests to rule out other causes. For example, a
higher level of rheumatoid factor antibiotics in your blood can be a sign of
rheumatoid arthritis. Blood tests can also diagnose other rheumatoid illnesses,
such as lupus and gout.
Blood tests are sometimes inconclusive. If your blood test
doesn’t provide a clear diagnosis, your doctor may suggest a joint fluid
analysis to check for osteoarthritis. With this test, your doctor inserts a
needle into an affected joint and draws fluid from this joint. Doctors can then
determine whether osteoarthritis, gout, or an infection causes pain. Your
doctor will prescribe antibiotics if you have an infection.
Osteoarthritis can progress and worsen over time. As your
condition deteriorates, simple activities like walking or bending can become
extremely painful or difficult. Medication, rest, and lifestyle changes can
help you live a relatively active and pain-free life.