Updated 02 March 2018

Diagnosing osteoarthritis

How would a medical expert diagnose you with osteoarthritis?


The diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms described and any visible signs of osteoarthritis (OA).

Blood tests are used mainly to rule out other disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout and haemachromatosis (iron-loading disorder).

X-rays of the joints may appear to be normal early on, but can be characteristic of OA later on. It may reveal bony remodelling in the joint, narrowing of the joint space, bone spurs (known as marginal osteophytes), a thickening of the layer of bone just below the cartilage in a joint, and an increased amount of fluid build-up in the joint.

Course and prognosis

With the correct approach of remaining active and keeping a check on your weight, osteoarthritis need not become a disabling condition. However, the damage to the joints usually starts before symptoms arise, making it difficult to act early.

Reviewed by Dr Stella Botha, rheumatologist at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town (MBChB, MRCP, PhD), November 2017.


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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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