For those who have arthritis, pain is pain. The distinction between the two types may not be at the forefront of your mind. But despite their similarities, there are differences between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Those defining characteristics can make all the difference when seeking treatment.
What is Osteoarthritis?
‘Osteo’ from the Greek term meaning ‘bone,’ is just that—a condition that affects the bones. Here, the smooth cartilage covering the surface of a joint wears out, and the bones begin to grind on one another, causing mild to severe pain and stiffness. Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative arthritis, typically begins in one joint and worsens over time.
Osteoarthritis is generally caused by wear and tear on the joints that occur naturally over a lifetime. Of course, some activities are harder on the joints than others, which can speed up the deterioration of the cartilage, the soft, spongy substance that acts as a cushion between the bones where they join together.
Osteoarthritis appears most frequently in parts of your body that experience the most use or bear a lot of weight. Knees, hips, the spine, and fingers are some of the most commonly affected areas. Overuse, extreme activities, obesity, and injury tend to wear joints down faster, playing a significant role in the onset of osteoarthritis.
Although it causes inflammation and irritation of the joints, osteoarthritis is considered a non-inflammatory type of arthritis.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is inflammatory. It is also an autoimmune disease, like multiple sclerosis and lupus. This means that the body’s immune system attacks the healthy cartilage that lines the joints. Also, unlike osteoarthritis, the joints are often afflicted symmetrically on both sides of the body. RA is three times as common in women as it is in men.
Rheumatoid arthritis is chronic and progressive, and over time, the pain, swelling, and joint deformity can become crippling. Common symptoms include stiffness and joint pain, but in severe flare-ups, RA can impair both the function and the appearance of the affected areas. Damage to the joints and the soft tissue can deform limbs as the disease progresses, making them difficult to use.
In addition to joint issues, people living with rheumatoid arthritis can also experience the formation of nodules on bony areas of the body, such as elbows. These are firm to the touch and are composed of inflamed cells, usually adjacent to the affected joints. Some individuals with RA may also begin to experience symptoms in their heart, lungs, and eyes. Others may develop Sjogren’s Syndrome, and many experience bouts of fatigue, anemia, and decreased appetite.
Treating RA and Osteoarthritis
There are different ways to diagnose and treat both forms of arthritis. To improve a patient’s quality of life, doctors will often prescribe medication, lifestyle changes, and different types of surgery, but these solutions differ based on the diagnosis.
Although arthritis cannot be cured, it can be managed with careful oversight from a medical professional. If you are struggling with arthritis, we can help.
Dr. Steve Thompson is a Rheumatologist at The Corvallis Clinic and specializes in common rheumatology conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, gout, and lupus. To schedule an appointment, please call 541-754-1371