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.