Investigation of acute monoarthritis (summary)

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 9 Apr 2020
This is a basic article for medical students and other non-radiologists

Acute monoarthritis describes the acute onset of arthritis affecting a single joint. It may be a large weight-bearing joint, or a smaller joint such as an interphalangeal joint, the great toe metatarsal-phalangeal joint, or an elbow. 

History and examination of the joint will narrow the differential diagnosis. Broadly, this differential includes:

Eliciting a history of recent trauma, systemic disease or recent/current infection significantly reduces the size of the list of differentials. Recognizing that there is erythema around a hot, swollen joint also limits the differential.

Blood tests including inflammatory markers and a full blood count are part of a standard workup. Radiology is helpful to make an assessment of the underlying bone. Ultrasound can be useful to confirm whether there is a joint effusion and how large it is.

If there is an effusion, it may sometimes be helpful to take a sample of joint fluid. This is particularly useful if there is a concern for infection, or where there is suspicion of a crystal arthropathy.

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