Do I Have Arthritis? 5 Health Issues That Often Get Misdiagnosed As The Joint Disease
If you've ever experienced joint pain, you know how debilitating it can be to do simple physical things. It can also be frustrating to figure out the cause of said pain, especially if it doesn't stem from something obvious, like an injury at the gym or a terrible mattress. But if you've assumed you might have arthritis, or have even had someone tell you as much, there are health issues that get misdiagnosed as arthritis that you might know about. Especially if your pain does not seem to be going away.
And what is arthritis exactly, to be clear? Basically, it's when there is no cartilage between the the joints anymore, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Daniel Paull MD, founder and CEO of Easy Orthopedics, tells Bustle, and the bones end up touching each other. And it can cause a lot of pain in the joints where there is no cartilage.
That being said, arthritis doesn't always cause pain, and if it doesn't hurt, it doesn't necessitate treatment.
"For example, if you have a clogged artery in your heart, you need to get that taken care of," Paull says. "Arthritis isn't like that. If you have it and it doesn’t hurt you, you can live with it [without treatment.]"
But Paull says that it is really pretty easy to figure out whether or not a person has arthritis, since it shows up so clearly with an X-Ray as an empty space between your joints. That being said, because arthritis is so common, there are definitely health issues that get misdiagnosed as mild or moderate arthritis. There are conditions who have symptoms similar enough that mistakes can be made when trying to pinpoint the problem.
"Sometimes the pain is falsely attributed to osteoarthritis rather than the true underlying issue that is causing the majority of the pain," Paull says. And if you think this might be happening to you, look below at other potential causes for your aching joints.
1. Joint infection
Thankfully not that common, but an infected joint can mimic the joint pain due to arthritis, Paull says, and it can thusly be mistaken. "Infected joints need to be cleaned out in the operating room," Paull says.
No, that doesn't sound particularly fun, but since the pain tends to be significant and severe, if you are feeling this way in your joints, you want to get into a professional's office ASAP so they can help you figure out what is really going on.
While gout is a form of arthritis, it's very specific and is treated differently than regular osteoarthritis, Paull says.
According to The Mayo Clinic, gout occurs when "urate crystals accumulate in your joint." These urate crystals can form when you have high levels of uric acid in your blood, causing inflammation and intense pain.
"A gout flare can cause a lot of joint pain, and while the joint may have arthritis in it, the main source of pain is coming from the gout flare," Paull says. It is often characterized by intense, heated joint pain, and requires medical attention.
"Fibromyalgia is poorly understood, but patients with fibromyalgia can have joint pain in multiple areas, and this can be misdiagnosed," Paull says.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, "fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain all over the body, sleep problems, fatigue, and often emotional and mental distress."
The CDC also says that people with fibromyalgia may be more sensitive to pain, called abnormal pain perception processing. If your symptoms seem to reach beyond joint pain, bring up this possibility with your healthcare provider.
4. Pinched Nerve In The Back
A pinched nerve in the back can really do a number on the whole body, and can even be completely misdiagnosed for a different condition.
"If the right nerve is pinched, the pain can travel down to the hip and knee and be confused for hip or knee arthritis," Paull says. Make sure you are getting an X-Ray when you go in to confront your symptoms, and visiting a physical therapist might also be a good option to alleviate the issue.
5. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is, "[v]ery different than osteoarthritis in that it is an autoimmune disease with a lot of inflammation," Paull says. "There are specific drugs that work very well for rheumatoid arthritis that don't work for osteoarthritis."
Unfortunately, it can take awhile to diagnose because the symptoms can be attributed to other things, and it can require a variety of blood and imaging tests to get at the real issue.
While finding the cause of your pain, can be, well, a real pain, Paull says that working with an orthopedic doctor you trust will get you towards a healing treatment. Don't give up, there is relief out there.