Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis

‘Arthritis’ is an umbrella condition that characterizes inflammation of one or more joints in the body. 

This condition can be triggered by a number of different causes, including ‘wear-and-tear’ of the joints, obesity, and the body attacking its own immune system (autoimmune diseases). 

Out of over 100 different types of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis commonly referred to as ‘wear-and-tear’ arthritis. This disease develops as cartilage breaks down, and the joints start to rub against each other over time. When cartilage (the flexible tissue that connects the joints) breaks down, the joints no longer have the padding they need to move and extend properly. This lack of support causes the synovial membrane (the membrane that surrounds the joint) to inflame. 

As cartilage continues to wear down, the bones eventually rub against each other, which can cause severe joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. Although osteoarthritis can affect any joint, it frequently affects joints in the hands, neck, knees, and hips.

<h2> What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis, another common type of arthritis, is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints in the hands, elbows, knees, ankles, wrists, and feet. This form of arthritis can also damage the organs, as well as the respiratory system and the cardiovascular system, which is why this disease is considered a ‘systemic’ disease. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the immune system attacking the synovial membrane. The immune system mistakes the synovial membrane for a foreign invader, attacking it as if it were an infection or virus. The cause behind this mistaken autoimmune attack is unknown. 

There are various types of rheumatoid arthritis, such as seronegative rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other types of common arthritis like psoriasis arthritis. 

What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

The difference between osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is in the way these diseases harm the body. While OA is a degenerative disease caused by a physical breakdown of the cartilage, and eventually the bones, RA is an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction in the immune system.

Causes of OA and RA

 Systemic Vs. Degenerative 

Because RA is a systemic disease, it can attack multiple joints and areas of the body at the same time. A systemic disease is one that affects an entire bodily system at once, as opposed to affecting a single organ or area of the body. 

When RA is present, a person’s immune system perceives their joints, the synovial tissues surrounding their joints, and other healthy organs as viruses or foreign invaders that need to be expelled from the body. In response to these invaders, the body’s white blood cells will rush to the site of the joint or organ, and create antibodies to destroy the perceived threat. 

OA, on the other hand, is a degenerative disease and typically originates in a single joint. Unlike RA, this degenerative disease is non-inflammatory; it deteriorates (or degenerates) the connective cartilage between the joints, and eventually deteriorates the bones. OA is sometimes called ‘wear-and-tear’ arthritis because it results from natural aging and years of wear on the joints.

RA (a systemic disease) is caused by an autoimmune response, and OA (a degenerative disease) is caused by years of natural wear-and-tear.

Symptoms of OA and RA

Because OA and RA are caused by different factors, they elicit different symptoms. 

A person who has rheumatoid arthritis may experience fatigue, malaise, and depression, preceding other symptoms by weeks to months. These are common symptoms of systemic diseases, as critical body systems, like the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, are under attack. These systems have key responsibilities in the body, and any damage to these systems can throw neurological, physiological, and physical functions off track.

Other symptoms of RA include:

Osteoarthritis manifests differently around the body. Because this disease attacks the cartilage between joints, and not the bodily systems (like RA), symptoms are typically felt around the joints. Severe joint pain, stiffness and swelling are common, along with the following symptoms:

Diagnosis of OA and RA

The causes, symptoms, and treatment methods differ for OA and RA, so it’s important that we determine the type of arthritis a patient has in order for us to develop an effective treatment plan.

How Osteoarthritis is Diagnosed

Osteoarthritis is generally diagnosed through a series of tests, along with a physical examination and an assessment of past medical history. 

Common tests used to diagnose OA include:

How Rheumatoid Arthritis is Diagnosed

Rheumatoid arthritis is generally diagnosed through a series of tests, including physical examinations, blood tests, and x-rays. 

If our rheumatology doctor, Dr. Maria Farooq, suspects rheumatoid arthritis, she will assess the affected joints to determine whether they are swollen, red, or warm, as these signs are indicative of RA. This physical exam may be followed by any of the following tests:

Treatment of OA and RA

How Osteoarthritis is Treated

Unfortunately, osteoarthritis cannot be reversed or treated. We offer various treatments and pain relievers to help patients with OA manage unpleasant symptoms.

How Rheumatoid Arthritis is Treated

There is unfortunately no treatment to reverse rheumatoid arthritis either. We can provide various medications along with therapy to help patients manage the symptoms of RA.

Whether you know you have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, or you’re experiencing symptoms of either, we offer advanced methods of diagnosis and treatment to assess your condition or help you manage your symptoms. 

When you schedule an appointment with us at our UCF Rheumatology Services department, you can rest assured that we are dedicated to providing you with the highest quality of care, in a comfortable and welcoming environment.