How do I know if I have osteoarthritis?

Unlike other types of arthritis, the pain from osteoarthritis usually develops gradually over many months or years. Often it increases with activities that put a lot of stress on the joint, such as running or prolonged walking. Morning stiffness (usually lasting less than 20-30 minutes) is not a prominent symptom as in rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis. Pain and joint swelling tend to increase slowly over time. Sometimes, especially in more advanced disease, a sensation of crunching or grinding may be noticed in affected joints. Osteoarthritis does not usually cause fevers, weight loss, or very hot and red joints. These features suggest some other condition or type of arthritis.

Your doctor or health care provider can usually tell if you have osteoarthritis by listening to your symptoms and examining your joints. X-rays are helpful to make sure there is no other reason for the pain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is generally not needed except in unusual circumstances or in cases when a cartilage or surrounding ligament tear is suspected. There are no blood tests that diagnose osteoarthritis. If a joint is particularly swollen, a doctor may need to drain fluid from that joint. Tests can be performed on the fluid to look for clues for other types of arthritis, such as gout.

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