Arthritis is a very common condition for people in the United States. By conservative estimates, about 54 million adults and 300,000 babies and children in the U.S. have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. The National Arthritis Foundation estimates that by 2040 arthritic conditions will affect 71 million people – making it a significant healthcare burden for many people and families.
There are more than 100 types of arthritis, but the most common forms include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
Severe arthritis can inhibit your ability to live a normal life. According to the CDC, 24 million Americans with arthritis say their condition limits their activity levels. To help avoid having the condition worsen, it’s important for you to get a formal diagnosis from your doctor as soon as possible in order to begin a treatment regimen.
Recognizing symptoms of arthritis is an important first step in deciding when it is time to visit the doctor. You need to be able to accurately describe your symptoms in order to help your doctor properly determine a diagnosis. The most common signs and symptoms of arthritis involve the joints. The exact signs and symptoms will depend on the type of arthritis you have, but typical characteristics include:
- Decreased range of motion
Specific questions you can expect to hear from your doctor include:
- When did the symptoms begin?
- Do activities exacerbate the pain or make it better?
- Which joints are painful?
- Do you have a family history of joint pain?
After considering your symptoms, the doctor will perform a physical exam to check for joint swelling or any decrease in range of motion. X-rays and blood tests are used to confirm a diagnosis. The majority of people with rheumatoid arthritis, for example, have antibodies in their blood called rheumatoid factors. The different imaging tests used by doctors to diagnose arthritis include:
X-rays. X-rays or low levels of radiation to visualize bone, are used to reveal any internal indication of osteoarthritis, including loss of cartilage or bone spurs.
Computerized tomography (CT scan). CT scans take x-rays from several different angles and aggregate the information to create cross-sectional views of the different bone structures. CT scans can also visualize soft tissues around the bone.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI can produce more-detailed cross-sectional images of different soft tissues, including cartilage, ligaments and tendons, by combining radio waves with a strong magnetic field.
Ultrasound. High frequency sound waves help provide images of soft tissue, cartilage and fluid-containing structures such as bursae. Ultrasound is used for to help guide the needle when the doctor draws sample of fluid from your joints for testing, which is called a joint aspiration.