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Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid arthritis: facts you should know

Updated on July 21, 2012
A lady with rheumatoid arthritis
A lady with rheumatoid arthritis

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid arthritis- why this comparison? You're asking yourself the same question, I guess. So before going to the topic, I think, without keeping you wondering, I should answer this question.

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are arthritis. And arthritis means inflammation of joint which will be evidenced by joint pain & swelling, reddening of skin over the joint area etc.

Although, both of them are arthritis, they aren't same at all. Their treatment option is not same also. I'm going to show you the important differentiating points between the two types of arthritis.

So differentiating between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis will help you to understand your problem and thus assist you to face your joint problem properly.

Now, what is osteoarthritis? It's degenerative joint disease. It is also known as wear and tear arthritis. By the name you already understood, I believe. It's wear and tear or degeneration of the part of a joint that causes osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease. In simple language, our body's immune system when mistakenly starts to attack body's own cell/tissue, it's known as auto-immune disease. Most of the cases, cause is unknown. So these disease are not preventable.

From the definition it's evident that both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are not same. So you should know the facts of osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis. Before moving on further I want your participation. I'm going ask a question which you should answer by the help of the info you got above.

Which one causes more severe disease?

See results

How did the answer go? Whatever, now let's go into a deeper level. Osteoarthritis, as you know, is the result of wear and tear. That is, it's the result of our aging process. Additionally over use, over weight are the contributing factor. Here the cartilage (acts as a cushion for bone to prevent injury) of a joint breaks down. So as cushion is gone, bones come into direct contact. This produces pain. See the first radiological image. Joint space between two bones are not symmetrical. It is due the destruction of cartilage.

On the other hand, rheumatoid arthritis attacks the joint covering membrane, known as synovial membrane by immunological pathway. As it is an autoimmune disease, it affects other parts of the body too.

OA (short of osteoarthritis) is usually occurs after 40 years. Men are affected more before the age of 45 years and women are more affected after 50 years. In case of RA (short of rheumatoid arthritis), the age of occurrence is 20-60 years.

Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis

OA incidence is equally distributed among the male and female. But RA incidence is more common among the females.

OA mainly affects large and weight bearing joints of the body that are more active usually. Where as RA affects small joints of the body like hands, feet etc.

As OA is the result of aging process, it usually causes unilateral joint pain. That means, it causes either right sided or left sided joint pain. And RA affects joints symmetrically. That means joints of both sides are affected at the same time.

Onset of OA is slow, over many years of use, wear and tear process. In case of RA, it's rapid, over weeks to months. OA is usually less severe and RA is more severe.

OA cause joint stiffness in the morning (following over nights inactivity) for few minutes, like 10-15 minutes. But activity increases the pain. RA causes joint stiffness in the morning for more than 30-60 minutes. Activity or movement of the joint decreases the pain of RA.

OA can be diagnosed by X-Ray of the affected joint. But RA is diagnosed by the American Rheumatism Association (ARA) criteria.

OA is not associated with any systemic symptom. RA accompanies fatigue, fever, weight loss. Other organs of the body may be affected.

For OA, NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are used to treat whereas for RA along with NSAIDs, disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, steroids are used.

From the above discussion, I believe, you've understood the osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis facts. To conclude the topic, one thing I want to say is, rheumatoid arthritis needs aggressive treatment as it has systemic effects.

Whether you understand and be able to classify the arthritis or not, you need to consult your physician for any problems related to your joint pain. By now you already should know the answer of question- which one causes severe disease? This is the fact of osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis.


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