Differences Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis is the inflammation of joints. It is not a single disease. There are over 100 types of arthritis. Some similar symptoms of arthritis in general include joint stiffness and joint pain. These symptoms make it difficult to move around and perform everyday tasks. Let’s take a look at the two most common types of arthritis, their differences, and how arthritis doctors treat them.   

What are the Differences between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The main difference between these two types of arthritis is the cause of the joint pain and symptoms. Osteoarthritis is mainly due to the mechanical wear-and-tear placed on the joints, and it happens over the course of one’s life. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints.


Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. It is a degenerative disease and is mainly caused by aging. However, obesity can also cause it and make it worse. Carrying extra weight puts more stress and strain on your joints, and the extra fat tissue produces proteins that can trigger a harmful inflammatory response in your joints.  

With the development of OA, the cartilage at the ends of your bones deteriorates from wear and tear. Cartilage is a protective cushion that helps bones in joints move and glide smoothly. With the loss of this protective tissue, bone begins to grind against bone.This leads to pain, stiffness, tenderness, loss of range of motion, and a grating sensation in the joint. Common joints affected include knees, kip, and hands.

Your arthritis doctor can diagnosis the condition through X-rays and MRI imaging. Blood tests may also be performed to help provide a more complete diagnosis. Unfortunately, the damage from OA can’t be reversed. However, pain can be effectively managed through treatments such as exercise, physical therapy, surgery, cortisone injections, medication, and lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle changes are often overlooked or difficult for arthritis patients to adapt. However, lifestyle changes can make significant improvements. Exercise, like yoga, for example, can strengthen the joint muscles and help stabilize the joint. Losing weight is also another important lifestyle change. If you are overweight, reducing the amount of weight you bare can decrease your OA symptoms. Ask your doctor for help with any lifestyle changes before you make them.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Unlike OA, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease is a disease where your body’s immune system attacks parts of your body. With RA specifically, the immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsules. This results in inflammation and can thicken the lining of the membranes that surround a joint. With the thickening of this membrane, bone cartilage can be destroyed. Joints can even lose their shape over time.

RA symptoms are often more painful and more severe than OA symptoms. RA often affects more than one joint. People with RA often have symmetric symptoms, meaning that if your left hand if affected than your right will probably be as well. RA also can affect other organs and parts of your body - such as your skin, nerves, eyes, lungs, and heart.

While doctors don’t know exactly what causes RA, there are some risk factors for this disease. One risk factor is one’s sex. Women are more likely to develop RA. Age is also another factor, and it usually develops between the ages of 40 and 60. Obesity seems to be a risk factor as well. Additionally, smoking and a family history of RA are big risk factors.

RA can be difficult to diagnosis, especially in the early stages. Blood and imaging tests paired with a physical examination of the joints are often used to make a diagnosis. Unfortunately, there is no cure for RA. However, the remission of symptoms may be achieved with early treatment. Consult with your arthritis doctor about which treatments will work best for you. Treatments may include medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and/or surgery.

Finding an Arthritis Doctor

If you suffer from chronic joint pain and stiffness, it may be time to visit the doctor. If you need a referral, ask your primary care doctor for help. A doctor that specializes in arthritis and joint pain can help you effectively manage your pain and symptoms. If you are looking for a Las Vegas arthritis doctor, contact Apex Medical Center to see how we can help you. We specialize in the management and treatment of painful conditions.

Image courtesy of yodiyim at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apex Medical Center

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