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What Is the Difference between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The biggest snag I run into when I tell people that I have rheumatoid arthritis is that people often don’t know what that is. Usually, the response is something like, “So? My grandma has that.” Now, obviously it’s possible that grandmas have rheumatoid arthritis. I know quite a few who do. But this is usually said with the implication that everyone gets rheumatoid arthritis as they get older, which isn’t true. Instead, quite a few people get osteoarthritis as they age. So, what is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

Arthritis patient and blogging Kate the (Almost) Great shares the answer to the question she gets the most: What's the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis? She also shares who can get each and symptoms of each, as well as resources.

What Is the Difference between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis – Osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis that most people think about when they think about arthritis. Essentially, it’s general wear-and-tear of the joints. “It occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time” (x). According to the Mayo Clinic, “the slick surface of the cartilage becomes rough. Eventually, if the cartilage wears down completely, you may be left with bone rubbing on bone” (x).

Rheumatoid arthritis – Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body, mostly the joints but it can also attack organs, eyes, and skin (x). The Mayo Clinic says, “Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity (x). The inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis is what can damage other parts of the body as well” (x). While osteoarthritis only affects the joints, in 40% of rheumatoid arthritis patients, other parts of the body are affected, as well (x).

Who might have osteoarthritis? According to the Mayo Clinic, some risk factors of osteoarthritis are age (which is why people tend to associate it with older people), obesity, joint injuries, genetics, or bone deformities (x). Additionally, having other bone or joint issues can lead to osteoarthritis (x). It should be noted that these are risk factors and not guarantees or limitations. You don’t need to be over 50 to have osteoarthritis. I know people who have it who were/are athletes or were in car accidents. And my ankle condition actually puts me at risk for osteoarthritis in my ankle.

Who might have rheumatoid arthritis? According to the Mayo Clinic, some risk factors of rheumatoid arthritis are gender, age, family history, smoking, environmental exposures, and obesity (x). Women are more likely to have it than men, RA is more likely to develop between the ages of 40 and 60, and a family history of autoimmune diseases makes you more likely to have RA (x). When I was diagnosed, I was the only family member on my dad’s side (that we know of) who had an autoimmune disease, but since then, others have been diagnosed with different autoimmune diseases. Additionally, certain environmental exposures such as asbestos and silica can lead to RA, although this is poorly understood (x).

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Signs You Have Arthritis

Osteoarthritis symptoms: According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include pain during or after movement, joint tenderness when pressure is applied, joint stiffness first thing in the morning or after a period of inactivity, loss of flexibility, feeling or hearing a grating sensation when the joint moves, or bone spurs (x). Specific joints with osteoarthritis might react slightly differently. For example, hip arthritis symptoms include pain in the groin area or sometimes on the inside of the knee or thigh (x). Knee osteoarthritis feels like grating or scraping when moving the knee (x). In the fingers, you might develop bone spurs around the affected joints, which can cause swelling, tenderness, and redness (x). As you can see, symptoms can vary depending on the affected joint, so be sure to bring up your symptoms to your doctor, even if you think they might not be relevant.

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms: According to the Mayo Clinic, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms include joints that are tender, warm, and swollen; joint stiffness that is worst in the morning and after periods of inactivity; and fever, fatigue, and weight loss (x). Usually, in RA patients, more than one joint is affected, including the small joints like the wrist, certain joints in the hand, and the feet (x). Additionally, often the same joints on both sides of the body are affected (x). For example, both of my knees bother me. Only one has needed surgery, but both are affected. There are other RA symptoms that come from long-term high levels of inflammation in the body, such as eye dryness, mouth dryness, gum irritation, inflammation in the lungs, inflammation in blood vessels, and anemia (x). I personally have had anemia of chronic disease/inflammation due to my RA and the fact that it took 9 years for me to be diagnosed and another 2.5 before I got on a working treatment.

Ever wonder what the difference is between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis? This post breaks that down, as well as who gets them and the symptoms. Click To Tweet

Resources for Arthritis Patients

Looking for some support whether you have osteo or rheumatoid arthritis? Here are some resources:

Arthritis Foundation – The Arthritis Foundation “helps conquer everyday battles through life-changing information and resources, access to optimal care, advancements in science and community connections. Our goal is to chart a winning course, guiding families in developing personalized plans for living a full life – and making each day another stride towards a cure. We also publish Arthritis Today, the award-winning magazine that reaches 4.2 million readers” (x). They work on advocacy, scientific discovery, helping and supporting arthritis patients, and connecting the arthritis community.

Arthritis National Research Foundation – The Arthritis National Research Foundation focuses mostly on, well, research! More specifically, “The Arthritis National Research Foundation provides arthritis research grants to scientists at major universities and research institutes across America. One- and two-year arthritis research grants allow these newer scientists to develop their important research to a stage where it can be continued and further supported by other national agencies” (x).

Why Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Hard To Diagnose?

Helping Someone with RA

What You Need To Know about Arthritis

Beginner’s Guide: Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis

Answering Questions about Arthritis

Like this post? Check out:

10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Received My Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis, The Lifestyle Changes I Made for My Rheumatoid Arthritis, My Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment + How I Got There, Problems from My Inflammatory Arthritis + How To Deal with Them

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