Rheumatoid arthritis - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, pathology
How a Medical History Helps Diagnose Arthritis
If arthritis is suspected, your doctor will need to take a detailed medical history and get a full explanation of your symptoms in order to make a proper diagnosis.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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If you've scheduled an appointment with your doctor because you've been experiencing symptoms of arthritis — joint pain, swelling, restricted motion, and heat in the affected joints — you're probably wondering what to expect. It's best to be prepared before you walk into that office so you can give your doctor the answers he or she needs, and so you can get the answers you're anxious to receive.
Medical History Questions: Symptoms of Arthritis
Your doctor will ask you a number of questions to help properly diagnose your individual condition. You'll spend a lot of time answering questions about any symptoms of arthritis you may be experiencing, such as:
- How severe is your joint pain?
- Where exactly do you feel pain?
- How long have you had this pain, and what were you doing the first time you noticed it?
- Are you able to work and participate in everyday activities despite your pain?
- Are your symptoms worse first thing in the morning?
- Do you have any stiffness in your joints? When?
- Do you experience pain in your feet, hands, or wrists?
- Is there anything you do that relieves the joint pain?
- Is the pain constant or does it come and go?
- When is your joint pain better or worse?
- Do you have any other symptoms related to your pain?
- Do you have pain outside of your joints?
- Have you felt tired or weak lately?
- Have you been having fevers?
- Do you have joint pain on one or both sides of your body?
- Does your joint pain occur in multiple places?
Many of these questions help your doctor get to know how the joint pain you're experiencing affects your body as a whole, and this can be key to determining what might be going on. If you do have arthritis, your doctor will need to figure out which type you have before he knows what kind of treatment will best help you manage your pain.
Your Family Health History
Next, your doctor will need to know about other factors in your personal and family medical history that can help make an accurate diagnosis. She may ask you questions like:
- Do you have any other medical conditions or illnesses?
- Have you previously been diagnosed with any medical conditions?
- Have you had any recent injuries to the area where you are experiencing joint pain?
- What activities do you participate in that require you to use that joint a lot?
- Are you taking any medications right now?
- Do you have a family history of arthritis or similar illnesses?
Some of your answers can be red flags to your doctor, indicating that you’re at higher risk for certain kinds of arthritis, particularly if you have a family history of the disease.
Ruling Out Other Possibilities
Pain is not an uncommon symptom, but the specific characteristics of arthritis pain are different than your average aches and pains. Joint pain can sometimes be caused by an injury or another illness, such as an infection. Of course, it could be osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, or a less common type such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or gout. But only the specific details about your experience with joint pain can point your doctor in the right direction for further diagnostic testing such as lab work and X-rays.
It may seem like your doctor is asking a pretty hefty list of questions when perhaps a more simple diagnostic test could accurately diagnose or rule out arthritis. But the answers you provide to these questions are the most important diagnostic tool that your doctor has to pinpoint the precise cause of your joint pain. So take some time to prepare, respond honestly, and ask your doctor if you have any questions of your own.
Video: Osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis symptoms | NCLEX-RN | Khan Academy
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