Rheumatoid Arthritis vs Osteoarthritis

There are many types of arthritis, but the most common two are Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Osteoarthritis (OA). While both types of arthritis carry many similarities, they can be quite different when it comes to the onset of symptoms, causes, and the overall diagnoses.

Osteoarthritis affects an estimated 27 million people in the United States, while 1.3 million people suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis. Such a different ration shows why osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Typically caused by wear and tear, osteoarthritis tends to get worse as we get older. It tends to affect the lining in the cartilage of the joint, making movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness.

Once the cartilage lining starts to roughen and thin out, the tendons and ligaments have to work harder. This can cause swelling and the formation of bony spurs, called osteophytes. The loss of cartilage also leads to friction where bone is rubbing on bone, altering the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position. While OA typically shows up later in life, it can happen earlier, especially if certain injuries have occurred. 

While similarly affecting the joints, the causes and symptoms of RA are quite different than that of OA. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling. The outer covering of the joint called the synovium is the first place that becomes affected. This can then lead to further swelling and a change in the joint’s shape, and may cause the bone and cartilage to break down. Unfortunately, the nature of RA as an immune system disorder means that people with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body.

Common symptoms of osteoarthritis are joint pain and stiffness, typically on joints like the hip and knee. Pain from OA is typically worse in the morning or after periods of strenuous activity. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include fever, loss of energy, and extreme fatigue. Swelling in smaller joints are common.

Early diagnosis and treatment of both RA and OA is essential to prevent further complications. For osteoarthritis patients, treatment may include exercises to strengthen your muscles, physical therapy, and medication. In cases of severely damaged joints, a joint replacement surgery might be the last resort. People suffering from rheumatoid arthritis treatment may include the need for medication and physical therapy to reduce inflammation, and to prevent joint and organ damage. 

If you would like to find out more information about either rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, call Colorado Center of Orthopaedic Excellence at (719) 623-1050, or request an appointment online.