Researchers at Duke University Medical Center are studying whether a device developed to scan computer circuit boards for defects can detect early signs of osteoarthritis (OA) in the hands. They found that the scanner, which can detect temperature differences to a tenth of a degree Fahrenheit, is effective in determining the temperature of finger joints. Warmer joints are associated with inflammation and may signal the first stage of OA.
Arthritis in the hand often is diagnosed through x-rays. The x-ray images show narrowing of joint space and cysts, both characteristics of OA. Researchers say that the scanner is more accurate than x-rays, which often produce inconclusive findings. They found that, as OA symptoms increased in severity, the joints tended to cool down. Their analysis showed that progressively cooler temperatures in the joints correlated with increasing disease severity revealed in x-rays of the same joints. They say that the thermal scanner holds promise for detecting OA in the first stages of the disease, before joint changes appear on x-rays, and before symptoms such as pain and joint enlargement occur.