What are the differences between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis?

Apex Blog - differences between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis

May is Arthritis Awareness Month, a great opportunity to have a conversation with your doctor about arthritis. Arthritis is a common condition that affects 24 percent of all adults in the U.S., but dealing with arthritis doesn’t have to stop you from living the life you want. If you have arthritis, your doctor can help you find ways to reduce discomfort, protect joints, and improve mobility.

One important part of your treatment will be working with your doctor to identify which type of arthritis you have. Two of the most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA). When talking with your doctor about arthritis, it can be helpful to know a few differences between the two.

Difference #1: How does each type of arthritis start?

Rheumatoid arthritis starts with your immune systemRA pain is an autoimmune condition in which your immune system attacks on the tissues in your joints. It causes pain and stiffness that will get worse over a few weeks or months. Pain from RA comes on more quickly than pain from OA.

Osteoarthritis starts with wear and tear of jointsCartilage is the tissue in each joint that cushions your bones. When it wears away, you experience the pain that comes with OA. OA pain develops gradually over several months or years.

Difference #2: What are the symptoms of each type of arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation, joint pain, swelling, and prolonged morning stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause prolonged morning stiffness. Pain from RA arthritis lasts for over 30 minutes after waking. Prolonged morning stiffness is one possible first symptom of rheumatoid arthritis. The first symptoms of RA could also be similar to the flu (fever, weakness, and fatigue).

Osteoarthritis causes joint pain, swelling, and temporary morning stiffness. Osteoarthritis causes morning stiffness that will go away after fewer than 30 minutes after waking. If you have OA, you may also notice stiffness after sitting for a few hours.

Difference #3: How are both sides of the body affected?

Rheumatoid arthritis causes a symmetrical pattern of inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs on both sides of the body. This is different from most types of arthritis including osteoarthritis. Pain from RA is often equal in both knees for example, while pain from OA would cause different levels of pain in each knee.

Osteoarthrosis affects individual joints to varying degrees. Osteoarthritis is less symmetrical. You may have pain in your left and right knee, but one side will be more severe than the other.

Difference #4: Who is most likely to be affected by each type?

Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women and in those in middle age. RA is two to three times more common in women and usually affects 30–60-year-olds. You are also more likely to develop RA if you have a close relative who also has it. Smoking and obesity also increase a person’s risk of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is more common in men and older adults. OA is more common in men before age 45. It is more common in women after the age of 45. Approximately 80% of older adults, ages 55 years and older, have evidence of osteoarthritis on X-ray. Of these, an estimated 60% experience symptoms. You are also more likely to develop arthritis if you have diabetes, hyperlipidemia, or decreased estrogen.

We hope that knowing these differences can help you work with your doctor to take the first steps to live life boldly with either type of arthritis. Remember to ask your healthcare provider any questions about your healthcare or diagnosis. ApexHealth members can give us a call at (844) 279-0508 (TTY: 711) to speak with an ApexAssistant. Our hours of operation are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. (local time) from Apr. 1 through Sept. 30 and seven days a week 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. (local time) from Oct. 1 through Mar. 31.

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