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Osteoarthritis Diagnosis & Tests

There are many conditions that may mimic the symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA), such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), scleroderma, polymyostitis and lupus. To make a proper diagnosis, your doctor may run a few tests. This page details the most common tests used for osteoarthritis diagnosis.

Doctor discusses osteoarthritis diagnosis and available tests with her patient

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Physical Check-Ups

Your doctor will analyze your aching joints and feel them for swelling. Also, he will determine the character of the aching joints and feel for growths of bony spurs, a characterizing sign of osteoarthritis. Your doctor will record your medical history and the duration of the joint pain to help in making a proper diagnosis. Your doctor may order further testing to aid in the diagnostic process.

Blood Tests

When it comes to blood tests, there are several that are used for osteoarthritis diagnosis. However, blood testing is a very important step in diagnostics for the sake of ruling out other diseases that present similar signs and symptoms as OA. Blood tests are also used to determine whether or not patients are responding well to treatment as well as to monitor the progression of osteoarthritis and other diseases, such as RA and lupus.

Your doctor may have your erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) checked via blood test in order to see the severity of the inflammation your body is experiencing. Although the ESR does not diagnose a particular disease, a high ESR level does state that the body is unwell.

Another blood level that your doctor may order is that of C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. An elevated CRP level is a clear sign of the degree of inflammation in the body. This blood test is more accurate than the ESR.


Osteoarthritis causes joint pain and inflammation. These osteoarthritis symptoms can be treated with an arthrocentesis procedure, in which a needle removes joint fluid and the joint is analyzed to find damage. The fluid is analyzed, once removed, to rule out diseases such as gout and other inflammatory diseases and causes. Both the removal of the joint fluid and injecting corticosteroids into the aching joint may bring osteoarthritis patients their anticipated relief.

If there is any damage done to the arthritic joint and surrounding ligaments, arthroscopy may detect it. Arthroscopy involves a tube with a viewing probe that is inserted into the joint. Recovery from arthroscopies is faster than from open joint surgery as long as the procedure produced promising results. In some cases, damage detected may be repairable during the procedure. Your doctor will numb the injection-site before inserting a needle and arthroscopy tube.


Patients with osteoarthritis may develop bone spurs, loss of cartilage around the arthritic joints and bones rubbing against each other. These conditions can be found using X-ray imaging. X-rays are also used to rule out other diseases and causes of joint and bone pain.

X ray confirms the osteoarthritis diagnosis

If your osteoarthritis diagnosis is confirmed, X-rays may be used to determine whether or not a surgical treatment is best suited for relief and repair of the aching joints and bones and their surrounding areas.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be a vital tool for osteoarthritis diagnosis. MRIs scan the body and produce clear images of the joints, etc. using radio waves, a big magnet and a computer to generate the images. MRIs may be used instead of or in addition to X-ray imaging.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you are pregnant or trying to conceive before undergoing any of the above testing. Also, inform your doctor of all of your symptoms and other health issues you may currently have or have had in the past. If you have an IUD (intrauterine device) or metal piece anywhere in your body, tell your doctor before undergoing an imaging procedure.

Every case of osteoarthritis is unique and requires its own precise testing. It is possible that you do not have osteoarthritis, but rather a disease causing arthritic symptoms. The tests detailed on this page will help determine the osteoarthritis diagnosis.

By being honest and upfront with your doctor about your medical history and current diseases and symptoms, a proper diagnosis can be made. Talk with your doctor about which diagnostic options are appropriate for you.