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OBJECTIVE: To conduct a practice survey of laboratory and imaging studies used by French rheumatologists to identify the cause of recent-onset arthritis. METHODS: We selected a random sample of 210 rheumatologists, who were asked to recruit all patients with recent-onset arthritis (at least one joint involved, for less than one year) during a 2 week period, and to record laboratory and imaging studies performed. Results were analyzed in the overall group, in diagnostic subgroups, and in clinical presentation subgroups. RESULTS: The 119 rheumatologists who participated recruited 104 patients. Investigations done in 50% to 75% of patients were blood cell counts; erythrocyte sedimentation rate; serum assays of C-reactive protein, rheumatoid factors, antinuclear antibodies; and hand radiographs. Investigations in 50% to 74% of patients were serum ASAT/ALAT, creatinine, and uric acid; and foot radiographs. Finally, 25% to 49% of patients were tested for proteinuria; antikeratin antibodies; hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and Lyme serologies; creatine phosphokinase; blood iron; HLA-B27; and radiographs of chest and pelvis. No differences were found between investigations in patients with suspected rheumatoid arthritis and/or undifferentiated arthritis and those in other patients. In contrast, suspected diagnoses and presence of extraarticular manifestations classically associated with specific diseases modified the selection of investigations. CONCLUSION: Although considerable variability occurred, our study suggests that a limited panel of laboratory and imaging studies is performed in at least 25% of patients with recent-onset arthritis, regardless of clues suggesting a specific diagnosis.