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Physicians who suspect patients may have arthritis of the hand often make the diagnosis using x-rays. Researchers from Duke University Medical Center may have found another diagnostic tool for arthritis. The researchers are studying whether a device developed to scan circuit boards for defects can identify early indicators of hand osteoarthritis (OA). The thermal scanner is sensitive enough to detect differences of .10̊F. The researchers found that the scanner works in determining the temperature of the finger joints. Warmer finger joints are a sign of inflammation and may indicate the first signs of OA.
The researchers said the scanner is more accurate than x-rays, which often produced inconclusive findings. The analysis discovered that as OA symptoms increased in severity, the joints tended to cool. The researchers'data indicated that progressively cooler joint temperatures were related with increasing disease severity shown in x-rays of the same joints. The investigators are confident that the thermal scanner can detect OA in the first stage of the disease, before joint changes become noticeable on x-rays and before symptoms occur.