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Osteoarthritis: What You Want to Know But Are Afraid to Ask

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Updated April 11, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

There are myths and misconceptions about osteoarthritis that can add to your confusion about the disease. Knowing the facts can help you get a better handle on the realities.

How Do I Know I Have Osteoarthritis?

You must be diagnosed by a doctor. To diagnose osteoarthritis, your doctor will make assessments using your medical history. Your medical history will include information about past medical conditions, allergies, treatments, and surgical procedures as well as current medical issues.

A current evaluation is also considered. Determinations are based on diagnostic tests, limited range of motion, a complete physical exam, and imaging studies. The assessment by your doctor will determine if you have osteoarthritis.

Does Everyone Eventually Develop Osteoarthritis?

According to "Hazzard's Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology," osteoarthritis becomes increasingly common in people older than age 55 years. In the Framingham study, x-ray evidence of knee osteoarthritis was present in 27% of those age 63 to 70 years and in 44% of those age 80 years or older.

Not everyone develops osteoarthritis with age. Osteoarthritis does not affect all joints equally. Not everyone with x-ray evidence of osteoarthritis experiences related symptoms.

Is There a Cure for Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease and, as of now, there is no cure for it. Until a cure is found, your focus should shift to managing the disease. While you focus on disease management, researchers are focused on finding ways to slow the progression of osteoarthritis, perhaps with disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs (DMOADs) or other treatments.

Is Significant Disability in My Future?

Osteoarthritis is a painful, degenerative type of arthritis. Physical activity and working can become difficult or impossible. Some people with osteoarthritis are forced to stop working because their condition becomes so severe and limiting. If you do become unable to work, you should research your options, including assistance through Social Security Disability.

Can I Successfully Manage Osteoarthritis Pain?

It's what newly-diagnosed osteoarthritis patients want to know -- can osteoarthritis pain be effectively managed so that it does not significantly disrupt normal daily activities? Can a person living with chronic osteoarthritis pain get their symptoms under control and still live a productive and happy life? The short answer to both - yes, it's possible.

How Will I Know My Treatment Is Working?

It's imperative that you and your doctor consider your treatment options. It's equally imperative that you talk to your doctor about how your treatment is working. Be sure you review the results of any diagnostic tests you have had since your last appointment, such as blood tests and x-rays. Your doctor should review what came back normal as well as what came back abnormal, which may indicate reason for concern.

Be sure you understand any abnormalities. If your doctor says your hemoglobin is low, ask how low and what that indicates. If you are given a number -- "sedimentation rate is 18," for example -- ask what that means. You can also request a copy of your test results.

In a subjective way, you can track your progress by using pain journals, pain diaries, or pain scales. You will want to track your pain level, how you feel overall, and if you have had more or less difficulty performing usual daily activities.


Access Medicine. Hazzard's Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. Aging and the Development of OA. Accessed 7/28/10.

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