How Is Arthritis Diagnosed?

Symptoms of arthritis

Symptoms vary depending on the type of arthritis. The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.

In general, most people with arthritis feel pain and stiffness in the joints, muscles, and other soft tissues surrounding the joints. They can experience:

  • Pain or tenderness in joint/s
  • Joint stiffness
  • Warmth and/or redness in joint/s
  • Difficulty using or moving a joint normally

It is very important to get the right diagnosis. There are over 100 different types of arthritis. Symptoms and treatment will vary depending on which type you have. Your general practitioner (doctor) will be able to help.

Preparing to see your doctor

Before you go to the doctor, it can be helpful to write down your symptoms and any patterns that you have noticed. For example:

  • What does your pain feel like – is it sharp or dull? Aching or stabbing? Do you get pins and needles? Does the pain wake you up?
  • When does your pain increase? Does it get worse after you have been active, for example, cleaning the house, or doing the gardening? Does it get worse if you have been sitting or lying still for a while, for example, sitting at the computer or reading a book.
  • Have you noticed anything that helps to make the pain better? For example, taking a warm shower, catching up with friends or doing activities you enjoy.
  • Does your joint stiffness change throughout the day? Is it worse in the morning, or does it stay the same throughout the day?
  • Keeping a ‘pain diary’ can be a really helpful way to pick up on patterns, so you can better inform your doctor. In a pain diary, you record things that might impact on your level of pain. You rate your pain on a scale of 0 – 10, and then rate your sleep, mood and level of physical activity as well. It is ideal to do this a few times a day, so you can really get a sense of any patterns.

What will the doctor do?

The doctor will usually ask questions about symptoms and family history, and examine the affected joints. You may be sent for blood tests, x-rays, or other tests. You may also be referred to a rheumatologist (a doctor who specialises in arthritis), for further tests.