There are several types of arthritis, and they all involve chronic inflammation of one or more joints in the body. The type of arthritis is determined by what is causing the symptoms. You primary care doctor will likely conduct or order tests to pinpoint the kind of arthritis you might have and then order an imaging test to determine the severity of the arthritis.
Blood and urine tests are commonly ordered to help pinpoint whether your symptoms are being caused by osteoarthritis, another type of arthritis, or a different condition altogether. Blood tests identify white cell counts, levels of inflammatory markers, and specific antibodies that are more likely to be present in people with certain types of arthritis than in people without arthritis. Urine tests will check for levels of uric acid and other markers of inflammation. Joint fluid, also called synovial fluid, is obtained by inserting a needle into the joint space to withdraw fluid. The fluid is then examined under a microscope for markers of arthritis.
An X-ray will allow your doctor to see cartilage loss, bone damage, and bone spurs (bony growths at the ends of joints). While they may not show early destructive changes that are better seen with MRI technology, X-rays are often used to track the progression of arthritis.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), your doctor can see soft tissue damage in cartilage, tendons, and ligaments as well as destructive changes in bone. This technique uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed, three-dimensional images of bones, organs, and tissues within your body.
A computerized tomography (CT) scan combines a series of X-rays taken from angles all around your body. A computer synthesizes these images to produce cross-sectional pictures of bones and soft tissues that provide more useful information than an X-ray.
A doctor inserts an arthroscope (a camera housed in a small, flexible tube) in a space near your joint. The arthroscope provides images taken from inside the joint.