How Is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of osteoarthritis is based on a combination of the following factors:
- Your description of symptoms
- The location and pattern of pain
- Certain findings during a physical exam
Your doctor may use X-rays to help confirm the diagnosis and rule out other types of arthritis. X-rays show how much joint damage has occurred.
If fluid has accumulated in the joints, your doctor may remove some fluid from the joint (called joint aspiration) and examine it under a microscope to rule out other diseases.
Although there is no blood test to diagnose osteoarthritis, some blood tests may be helpful to rule out other types of arthritis.
How Is Osteoarthritis Treated?
Osteoarthritis is usually treated by reducing stress on the joints such as weight control and avoiding painful activity, physical therapy and exercise, application of heat or cold to the painful joint, medications, and use of supportive devices such as canes. Surgery may be helpful in severe cases to relieve pain when other treatment options have not been effective.
The goals of treatment are to accomplish the following:
- Decrease joint pain and stiffness
- Improve joint mobility and stability
- Increase your ability to do daily activities
The type of treatment prescribed will depend on several factors, including the person's age, activities, occupation, overall health, medical history, and severity of the condition.
What Medications Are Used to Treat Osteoarthritis?
Pain-relieving drugs include acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Some medications in the form of creams, rubs, or sprays may be applied over the skin of affected areas to relieve pain. Medications may be prescribed to reduce pain caused by osteoarthritis. Some medications may be injected into the affected joint to relieve symptoms.
Unfortunately, drugs do not reverse or slow the progression of joint damage caused by osteoarthritis.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are two supplements that are commonly used for osteoarthritis. Research has not conclusively shown that these supplements are effective in reducing pain or improving function in patients with osteoarthritis.
When you are taking any medication or supplement, it is important to let your doctor know so he or she can assess for safety, drug interactions, and any side effects.
How Do Weight and Exercise Impact Osteoarthritis?
Losing weight if you are overweight or obese helps prevent osteoarthritis of the knees, reduces the stress on weight-bearing joints, and helps reduce pain in affected joints.
Exercise is important to improve joint movement and to strengthen the muscles that surround the joints. Gentle, low-impact exercises, such as swimming or walking on flat surfaces, are recommended, because they are less stressful on your joints. High-impact activity, such as jogging or high-impact aerobics, may increase joint pain. Strength training is also encouraged, particularly for muscles surrounding and supporting affected joints.