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R h e u m at o lo g y Ultrasound Offers Physicians Important Tool to Identify and Treat Arthritis “If we can eventually use ultrasound to predict whether certain treatments will work long term, we can improve treatment decision making and provide relief to patients much more quickly.” Arthritis, or joint inflammation, may cause irreversible damage and disability if left untreated. Experts say early and accurate diagnosis and treatment is critical to managing pain and improving joint function. Though ultrasound has been used in medicine since the 1940s, technological advances now make it possible to expedite relief for many of the 46-million Americans with arthritis. “Ten years ago, it was difficult to distinguish enough detail in ultrasound images to make an accurate diagnosis of arthritis,” says UCLA rheumatologist John FitzGerald, MD, PhD. UCLAHEALTH.ORG 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631) Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images that identify the distance, size and shape of objects inside the body. Compared to conventional X-rays, ultrasound is now the second most common form of diagnostic imaging, and may produce images that provide additional information. “We can use ultrasound to identify inflammation, swelling or increased blood flow in a problem area or to see the crystals associated with gout,” he explains. Based on that information, Dr. FitzGerald says, physicians can diagnose whether the arthritis is non-inflammatory (osteoarthritis), inflammatory (rheumatoid arthritis) or gouty (a form of arthritis that develops when uric acid crystals form in and around the joints, usually of the big toe) and determine if the condition is likely to cause serious problems.