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Differences Between Osteoarthritis & Rheumatoid Arthritis

Updated on March 2, 2015
Arthritis could affect any of us
Arthritis could affect any of us | Source


The range of illnesses that affect the limbs and joints are known as rheumatic diseases, and there are more than one hundred different types. Among these conditions, two of the most common are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Despite both being rheumatic diseases, they do substantially differ from each other.

In this article we explore the main differences between the two conditions and how they can impact on patients.

An X-ray of rheumatoid arthritis in the hands
An X-ray of rheumatoid arthritis in the hands | Source

Rheumatoid arthritis

The specific cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known, although scientists believe that it is caused when the immune system of the patient malfunctions and attacks their own body; this is known as an 'autoimmune' disease.

These attacks most often affect an individual's hands and feet and unlike most other forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis tends to attack both sides of the body at once, in a symmetrical fashion.

Osteoarthritis affecting the hands
Osteoarthritis affecting the hands | Source


This illness most often affects older people and is a degenerative joint condition. It occurs because the cartilage that cushions and protects the bones in the joints wears out, allowing the bones to rub together. This can cause substantial discomfort for the patient.

Differences between the conditions

Other differences between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis could occur at any time in a person's life, whereas older people are the main age group that suffer from osteoarthritis.
  • Osteoarthritis slowly worsens over the course of several years, whereas rheumatoid arthritis can strike swiftly, over weeks and months.
  • Osteoarthritis makes joints tender with little swelling while rheumatoid arthritis aggravates joints, making them swollen, stiff and painful.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis can cause a person to feel generally unwell, whereas the symptoms of osteoarthritis are limited to the affected joints.
  • The cause of osteoarthritis is normally a joint 'wearing out' due to repetitive stress and use of joints, or as the result of an accident or injury. It is believed that rheumatoid arthritis is generally caused by genetic predisposition and 'triggering' events, although no specific cause has been found.
  • Osteoarthritis affects just over 20 million people in the United States, with rheumatoid arthritis affecting just over two million people.

The metacarpals in the hand are easily affected by arthritis
The metacarpals in the hand are easily affected by arthritis | Source

Do you suffer from arthritis?

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In closing

If you believe that you may be suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, it is vital that you see a doctor as soon as possible to get diagnosed and begin treatment. Identifying the disease early and starting on a medical plan is the most effective way to preserve your quality of life.

What is arthritis?


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    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Yes, there is a dramatic difference between the two. It is possible to have both! Plus, RA can really only be truly diagnosed with blood tests confirming the autoimmune condition. There are actually so many types of "arthritis" that one really needs to figure out which one he/she is dealing with. Voted up, useful and interesting.


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