Doctors typically use patient information, physical examinations and medical tests to diagnose arthritis in the fingers, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Patients describe their symptoms, onset, severity, longevity, family history of arthritis and any other medical conditions.
When considering arthritis, a doctor scrutinizes the patient's hand, noting regions that are tender, painful or swollen, states the Arthritis Foundation. Joints are studied for signs of damage. The physician sometimes orders joint fluid or blood tests. If uric acid or bacteria show up in the fluid, gout or infection are most likely causing the symptoms. Specific antibodies in the blood indicate either rheumatoid arthritis or an inflammatory disease such as lupus.
Arthritis often shows up as dark spots on X-rays, explains the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. If X-ray results are negative but arthritis is still suspected, a bone scan provides more information. Tests and scans not only help diagnose the presence of arthritis but also indicate the type, states WebMD.
There are over 100 types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common, notes the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Osteoarthritis is typically seen in older adults because it results from joint cartilage wearing away over time. Rheumatoid arthritis makes the lining of joints swell, leading to pain and immobility. This form often begins in the hands and feet, and the affected joints usually display symmetrical patterns.