Q. I suspect I have osteoarthritis in my feet and hands. I would like to know, and better yet, I’d like to find out more about your research studies. Is a test for osteoarthritis easy? I just had a bone density test 30 days ago, but didn’t go back to get my results, but I can. Please let me know about the research studies and what to expect regarding testing for it. thanks.
A. Dear RD,
You asked seemingly simple and direct questions. I would like to be able to answer in the same manner.
Unfortunately, it is not quite as straight forward as we would all like. There is no one test to tell if you have osteoarthritis in your hands and your feet. Unlike some of the rheumatoid forms of arthritis, there are no blood tests or other tests currently available to diagnose or stage Osteoarthritis. Now, as in the past, Osteoarthritis is diagnosed clinically by a doctor asking questions and doing an exam. Some of the questions include: which joints are involved? do they hurt? when do they hurt? are they swollen? are they misshapen? have you lost strength? are there activities that you limit or avoid? did your joints change suddenly or over time? is there anything that makes them feel better? anything that makes them feel worse?
If an x-ray machine is available, a doctor might follow the physical exam with x-rays. Signs of Osteoarthritis on x-rays included joint space narrowing, , thickening of the edges of the bone, bone spurs, erosions under the edges of the bone, and bone deformities. Severe Osteoarthritis might show the ends of two bones touching. Additionally, there are now other imaging methods including CT’s and MRI’s. Both of these show about the same information as the x-rays – and then some. They provide 3-D rather than 2-D images and also show the soft tissues in addition to bone. Theoretically, MRI’s and CT’s would be able to diagnose Osteoarthritis at earlier stages than can be done in the x-rays, but to my knowledge guidelines for earlier diagnosis are not available yet.
A bone density test won’t tell you whether or not you have Osteoarthritis, it will tell whether you have osteopenia or osteoporosis. So, while it is helpful to know whether you have lost bone density, that particular test won’t tell you anything about whether you have Osteoarthritis in your hands or feet.
Part of the problem with diagnosing Osteoarthritis is that it appears to have some aspects that may be the same for every possible Osteoarthritis site in the body and there are some differences based on the specific joint(s) involved. This has complicated both the diagnosis and treatment of Osteoarthritis. That is one of the reasons that The Arthritis Research Institute of America is studying this very common disease which causes many people so much difficulty – we still just don’t know that much about it. The Clearwater Osteoarthritis Study (COS) has collected information for 20 years on hands, feet, knees, and necks as well as lifestyle information. As more data becomes available for analysis, we will be sharing the results of our findings in published papers, on our website and in our blogs.
Please see the recent and upcoming blogs for more specifics on what we are working on now.