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The diagnosis will be based on the pattern of symptoms, the distribution of the inflamed joints, and any blood and X-ray findings. Several visits may be necessary before the doctor can be certain of the diagnosis.
Many forms of arthritis are more of an annoyance than serious. However, millions of people suffer daily with pain and disability from arthritis or its complications.
The first step in the diagnosis of arthritis is a meeting between the doctor and the patient. The doctor will review the history of symptoms, examine the joints for inflammation and deformity, as well as ask questions about or examine other parts of the body for inflammation or signs of diseases that can affect other body areas. Furthermore, certain blood, urine, joint fluid, and/or X-ray tests might be ordered. A doctor with special training in arthritis and related diseases is called a rheumatologist (see below).
Symptoms of arthritis include pain and limited function of joints. Joint inflammation from arthritis is characterized by joint stiffness, swelling, redness, pain, and warmth. Tenderness of the inflamed joint can be present with or without pain. When large joints are involved, such as the knee, there can be loss of cartilage with limitation of motion from the joint damage. When arthritis affects the small joints in fingers, there can be bone growth and loss of hand grip and grip strength of the hand.
Many of the forms of arthritis, because they are rheumatic diseases, can cause symptoms affecting various organs of the body that do not directly involve the joints. Therefore, symptoms in some patients with certain forms of arthritis can also include fever, gland swelling (swollen lymph nodes), weight loss, fatigue, feeling unwell, and even symptoms from abnormalities of organs such as the lungs, heart, or kidneys.
For more information, read our full medical article on arthritis.
Firestein, Gary S., et al. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology, 9th Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2013.