Rheumatoid arthritis vs osteoarthritis: Know the difference
By NCVC Staff | Published on Sep 24, 2023
Arthritis, a widespread and debilitating condition, impacts millions of people worldwide. It refers to a group of chronic disorders characterized by inflammation and stiffness in one or more joints. Arthritis can lead to significant pain, limited mobility, and a decreased quality of life. There are several types of this joint condition, each with its own causes, symptoms, and treatment approaches. In this article, we will explore the two most prevalent forms of arthritis: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
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How Rheumatoid Arthritis Differs from Osteoarthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA) are both types of arthritis, but they differ in terms of their underlying causes, symptoms, and treatment approaches. Let’s examine the key differences between the two:
Rheumatoid arthritis: RA is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues, particularly the synovium (the lining of the joints). Although the exact cause of RA is unknown, factors like genetics and the environment are believed to play a role.
Osteoarthritis: OA is primarily a degenerative joint disease that occurs due to wear and tear on the joints over time. Factors such as aging, joint injury, obesity, and joint overuse contribute to the development of OA.
2. Joint Involvement
Rheumatoid arthritis: RA typically affects multiple joints symmetrically, meaning that both sides of the body are affected. It commonly impacts smaller joints, such as those in the hands, wrists, and feet, but larger joints can also be involved.
Osteoarthritis: OA usually affects weight-bearing joints like the hips, knees, and spine. It often targets a single joint or a few joints and tends to be asymmetric, meaning it may only occur on one side of the body.
Rheumatoid arthritis: RA is characterized by joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, particularly in the morning or after periods of inactivity. It can also cause fatigue, general malaise, and systemic symptoms like fever and weight loss. RA can result in joint deformities and may affect other organs and systems in the body.
Osteoarthritis: OA is primarily associated with joint pain and stiffness that worsens with activity and improves with rest. Joint swelling is less prevalent in OA compared to RA. Over time, OA can lead to the formation of bone spurs and joint deformities.
Rheumatoid arthritis: RA is a chronic, progressive disease that tends to worsen over time if left untreated. It can cause joint damage, cartilage loss, and bone erosion, leading to significant disability and functional impairment.
Osteoarthritis: OA generally progresses slowly, and the symptoms may gradually worsen over many years. However, the rate of progression can vary between individuals. OA primarily affects the joints and does not typically involve systemic complications.
Rheumatoid arthritis: RA is managed using a combination of medications, such as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and corticosteroids. In certain cases, biologic therapies that target specific components of the immune system are also employed. Physical therapy and lifestyle modifications are essential for managing symptoms and improving joint function.
Osteoarthritis: Treatment for OA focuses on relieving pain, improving joint function, and minimizing further joint damage. This may involve lifestyle modifications (such as weight management and exercise), pain medications (like acetaminophen and NSAIDs), physical therapy, assistive devices, and, in severe cases, joint replacement surgery.
It is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management of arthritis. They can provide personalized advice based on an individual’s specific condition. By understanding the differences between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, individuals can make informed decisions about their treatment options and take necessary steps to manage their condition effectively.