Osteoarthritis (OA or Degenerative Arthritis)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Catherine Burt Driver, MD
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

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Quick GuideOsteoarthritis (OA): Treatment, Symptoms, Diagnosis

Osteoarthritis (OA): Treatment, Symptoms, Diagnosis

How do doctors diagnose osteoarthritis?

There is no blood test for the diagnosis of osteoarthritis. Blood tests are performed to exclude diseases that can cause secondary osteoarthritis, as well as to exclude other arthritis conditions that can mimic osteoarthritis.

X-rays of the affected joints can be used to diagnose osteoarthritis. The common X-ray findings of osteoarthritis include loss of joint cartilage, narrowing of the joint space between adjacent bones, and bone spur formation. Simple X-ray testing can also be very helpful to exclude other causes of pain in a particular joint as well as assisting the decision-making as to when surgical intervention might be considered.

Arthrocentesis is a procedure to remove joint fluid that is often performed in the doctor's office. During arthrocentesis, a sterile needle is used to remove joint fluid for analysis. Joint fluid analysis is useful in excluding gout, infection, and other causes of arthritis. Removal of joint fluid and injection of corticosteroids into the joints during arthrocentesis can help relieve pain, swelling, and inflammation.

Arthroscopy is a surgical technique whereby a doctor inserts a viewing tube into the joint space. Abnormalities of and damage to the cartilage and ligaments can be detected and sometimes repaired through the arthroscope. If successful, patients can recover from the arthroscopic surgery much more quickly than from open joint surgery.

Finally, a careful analysis of the location, duration, and character of the joint symptoms and the appearance of the joints helps the doctor in diagnosing osteoarthritis. Bony enlargement of the joints from spur formations is characteristic of osteoarthritis. Therefore, the presence of Heberden's nodes, Bouchard's nodes, and bunions of the feet can indicate to the doctor a diagnosis of osteoarthritis.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/19/2016

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