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Helping Your Doctor to Diagnose Arthritis

Updated on October 24, 2011

With over 100 different types of arthritis and a variety of other chronic pain conditions which present with similar symptoms, it isn’t always easy for GPs in particular to make a clear and accurate diagnosis without carrying out batteries of tests over sometimes prolonged periods of time.

Clearly, this isn’t an ideal situation, not least because it can lead to prolonged suffering for the patient.

Patients themselves, however, can do much to help their doctors to make faster and more precise diagnoses by preparing themselves for their consultations.

In his book entitled Arthritis: A Practical Guide to Getting on With Your Life, Dr Chris Jenner devotes one of the chapters to how doctors go about diagnosing the various types of the disease.

Not only is this information extremely valuable in terms of putting patients at greater ease by helping them to understand what to expect when they approach a doctor with what may be the symptoms of arthritis, but it also allows them to prepare more thoroughly for their visits and so get the maximum benefit out of the consultations.

Unless they find themselves faced with critical situations in which immediate action is imperative in order to save the patient’s life, one of the first things that doctors typically do is to ask their patients to describe their symptoms and disclose any relevant aspects of their medical histories.

However, particularly in the case of diseases and illnesses which start off gradually and grow progressively worse, which is often the case with arthritis, the details can become somewhat sketchy over time.

When patients finally get to the point where they feel that a visit to the doctor is in order, frequently what they remember are only the most recent and the most severe symptoms.

How a disease or illness starts though, as well as its progression over time and any patterns in the symptoms can give enormous clues to doctors as to the underlying problem.

Dr Jenner advises that one of the really useful things that patients can do in advance of a consultation is to write down a list of the symptoms they have been experiencing, or better still, to keep a diary of their symptoms which might help to indicate, for example, particular times of the day when symptoms feel worse or particular activities which cause them to flare up.

Although it might be easy to think that you wouldn’t forget details such as these when talking to a doctor, if you are feeling stressed, nervous or upset during the consultation it is not at all hard to overlook what might feel like minor details to you, but which could actually be highly significant to your physician.

The types of things that doctors are likely to want to know about when diagnosing any kind of illness include

  • the nature of your symptoms
  • when and how they started
  • whether there are certain times when they feel better or worse
  • how long they usually last.

In the case of arthritis, however, they are also likely to enquire about where precisely in your body you experience pain or other symptoms such as numbness or tingling, whether you have experienced any redness, swelling or stiffness in any of your joints, whether symptoms occur on only one side of the body or both and whether or how they affect your ability to carry out normal daily activities.

Enquiries as to whether you have recently suffered an injury or an infection, or in relation to whether family members have ever suffered from similar symptoms or been diagnosed with arthritis can also be helpful in determining the precise nature of your condition.

Buy the book!

Arthritis: A practical guide to getting on with your life (How to Self-Help Guide)
Arthritis: A practical guide to getting on with your life (How to Self-Help Guide)

With over 100 different types of arthritis and a variety of other chronic pain conditions which present with similar symptoms, it isn’t always easy for GPs in particular to make a clear and accurate diagnosis without carrying out batteries of tests over sometimes prolonged periods of time.


Another thing which it is important to make a note of before attending a consultation with a doctor is the type of any medications that you might already be taking for other conditions, as well as the dosage.

Certain types of medication shouldn’t be mixed at all with other drugs, while others should only be combined in certain circumstances or under strict medical supervision, so it is vital that your doctor is clear about any prescription or non-prescription drugs that you are taking.

Although questions relating to alcohol intake, diet, the use of recreational drugs and even sexual activities might seem inappropriate in a suspected case of arthritis, in fact certain types of the disease are more likely to occur in those who drink more, eat certain types of diet, use intravenous drugs or whose lifestyles make them more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections.

If your doctor asks about any of these things, therefore, it is not only important to provide honest answers, but also not to take offence or feel that he or she is making any assumptions about your lifestyle or judging you.

After all, only if your physician is in possession of the full facts can he or she make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe the most appropriate and effective treatment.

As well as preparing yourself for the series of questions that your doctor is likely to ask, another thing that you should be prepared for when you arrange a consultation with your physician is that he or she will likely need to carry out a physical examination to ascertain the nature and severity of your symptoms.

Depending on what type of arthritis your doctor thinks you might be suffering from, he or she might, for example, look for signs of swelling, redness, warmth or tenderness around the joints, rashes or markings on the face or body, or even for joint deformities.

In addition, you may be asked to perform certain movements so that the doctor can ascertain the extent of pain, stiffness or loss of movement.

Again, it is important that you try to describe the type and extent of any symptoms that you experience during the course of the physical examination to help your doctor make the fastest and most accurate diagnosis possible.

As Dr Jenner’s book explains, knowing what to expect from a consultation to diagnose arthritis, or in fact any other form of chronic illness, and being prepared in advance, not only helps to eliminate fear, but also to ensure that you are relieved of uncertainty and can begin to receive treatment all the sooner.

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    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      7 years ago

      Mom started getting osteoarthritis when she was in her teens. She is getting rheumatoid arthritis in her fingers. Because I have little dexterity in my right hand I expect to get arthritis in my left hand earlier than my peers.

    • raxit02 profile image


      7 years ago from Amsterdam, The Netherlands

      Its a really knowledge bank on Arthritis. I would thank you for taking your time in collecting, researching, compiling the information, and presenting before the world. May god bless you.....Nick

    • NotPC profile image


      7 years ago

      That's crazy! Interesting though i suppose... Hopefully the eliminate arthritis by the time I'm one of the elderly folk...

    • limph3215 profile image


      7 years ago from Malaysia

      Good article and good advice. Thanks for sharing.

    • Julie-Ann Amos profile imageAUTHOR

      Julie-Ann Amos 

      7 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

      It can even come on in childhood, sadly. This book outlines several childhood types.

    • NotPC profile image


      7 years ago

      At what age do you need to start preparing for arthritis?


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