Diagnosing the Different Types of Arthritis

March, 2021

There are many types of arthritis, and the way your arthritis is treated can vary depending on which type you have. So, it is very important to make sure you get the right diagnosis.

How do I know if I have arthritis?

There are many different reasons why your joints may be sore. Not all pain in muscles and joints is caused by arthritis. It could be from an injury or using your joints and muscles in an unusual way. But, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you have symptoms of arthritis. 

Talk to your doctor if you have pain and stiffness that:

  • starts for no clear reason
  • lasts for more than a few days
  • comes on with swelling, redness and warmth of your joints.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine your joints. They may also do some tests or x-rays.

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.

These questions can help you prepare to see your doctor:

  • 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 helpful way to see any patterns in your symptoms 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.

How do I know what type of arthritis I have?

If arthritis is suspected, find out what type of arthritis is affecting you and learn about your treatment options. 

It may take several visits before your doctor can tell what type of arthritis you have. This is because some types of arthritis can be hard to diagnose in the early stages. Your doctor may also send you to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specialises in arthritis, for more tests.

Your doctor may use blood tests to provide support for the diagnosis made on the symptoms and signs, or to help rule out other types of arthritis or conditions that cause similar symptoms. 

Forms of arthritis diagnosed by pathology tests include autoimmune conditions like

Some conditions may be diagnosed without blood or pathology tests, including conditions like

More information and resources

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