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Medical History and Physical Exam for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Exam Overview

Your medical history and current medical condition help your doctor diagnose and/or evaluate rheumatoid arthritis. To assess your medical history, your doctor may ask:

  • How long symptoms have been present and whether there has been any pattern to them.
  • Whether there is a family history of arthritis.
  • Whether there are any other general symptoms (fatigue, weight loss, fever).
  • Whether there has been any recent or past injury to the affected joints.
  • How symptoms have affected your daily activities of living, driving, and working.

During the physical exam, your doctor may look at, feel, and move each joint and evaluate it for:

  • Swelling, warmth, and tenderness.
  • Presence of fluid on the joint.
  • Range of motion.
  • Joints that are affected.
  • The presence of bumps (rheumatoid nodules) over pressure points in the body.

During the exam, your doctor may also do a routine evaluation of the lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys.

Why It Is Done

The medical history and physical exam are routine parts of any medical evaluation.

Results

Important findings in the physical exam include the:

  • Pattern of symptoms in the affected joints.
  • Presence of swelling or tenderness in the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis often causes painful, swollen, "hot" joints and often affects the same joints on both sides of the body. Your doctor will note the location of affected joints, as well as other symptoms, to find out whether your condition meets the criteria for a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.

What To Think About

Physical findings are an important part of the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and are also used to evaluate the success of treatment.

Complete the medical test information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Nancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
Last Revised June 5, 2012

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