6 Differences Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis the same condition? They aren't, and in this slideshow we look at differences between these two diseases.

Which form of arthritis do you have?

Arthritis comes in many forms. In fact, this term can apply to a number of conditions, including psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and osteoarthritis. Two of these conditions--rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA)--are often confused among patients.

They have different causes.

OA is a degenerative condition that develops because of excessive wear to the cartilage between the joints. RA is an autoimmune disease, meaning it is caused by a person's own immune system attacking his or her otherwise healthy body. RA can strike any joint, regardless of how much or how little the joint has been used.

They are treated with different medications.

OA is generally treated with over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory painkillers. In severe cases, OA patients may be prescribed narcotic painkillers as well. They also may be given hyaluronan injections directly into an affected joint.

They affect the body differently.

Because it is an autoimmune disease, RA can affect not only the joints but a person's organs as well. And because it's not caused by overuse of a joint, it tends to affect the body symmetrically, meaning large and small joints on both sides of the body are affected at the same time.

They strike people of different age groups.

OA tends to strike older people who've had time to put more "wear and tear" on their joints. Younger people who use specific joints repeatedly--such as construction workers or others who do physical work--are also at risk for OA in these overused joints. RA can affect anyone at any age. It is more common in women and its symptoms tend to be more aggressive in women as well.

They worsen at different rates.

OA develops and gets worse over a long period of time as people age and put more and more wear on their joints.

Conversely, RA can strike and advance into a full-blown and disabling condition over the course of mere weeks or months.