Both osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are chronic medical conditions that cause joint pain. The Arthritis Foundation reports that, in the United States, osteoarthritis affects 14 percent of adults aged 25 years and older and 34 percent (12.4 million) of those 65 years and older. It is estimated that 1.5 million U.S. adults have rheumatoid arthritis.
One common question that people ask is: what is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis? The basic difference is that RA affects the joints and causes joint pain. OA causes bone density loss and makes the bones weak and brittle. Some treatments for RA can cause bone loss and result in OA. So both conditions can occur together.
OA causes loss of bone density and increases the risk of fractures. It can affect the hips, knees, neck, lower back, or small joints of the hands and cause severe pain, impair function and mobility, and lead to chronic or permanent disability. Risk factors for developing OA include aging, sex, (women are affected more) joint injuries, obesity, occupations or activities that put repetitive stress on the joint, genetics, and bone deformities. Pain is the first symptom of OA, which worsens over time.
This autoimmune disorder occurs when the immune systems attacks the body’s own tissues. A chronic inflammatory condition, RA affects various joints in the fingers, thumbs, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, feet, and ankles, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, malformation, and reduced movement and function. The smaller joints are affected first. RA also affects various other body systems such as the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels, causing fatigue, fever, weight loss, eye inflammation, anemia, nodules (bumps under the skin), and lung inflammation.
There are basic differences in the symptoms of these conditions and the way in which they progress.
- RA can occur at any age, but usually occurs between age 30 and 50. OA usually affects middle-aged and older people.
- In OA, degeneration of cartilage leads to bone spurs, pain and changes that limit the joint’s function. In RA, it is the inflammation of the tissues around the joint that affects it and causes pain, swelling, and fluid within the joint. RA causes more stiffness in the joints than OA.
- RA is usually gets worse in the morning or after a long period of inactivity or rest. OA is likely to get worse with activity all through the day.
- The inflammation that RA causes involves the whole body and symptoms not related to the joints that make patients feel generally unwell. People with RA have a much higher risk of heart disease.
A multidisciplinary pain management approach works best for both these arthritic conditions. Multispecialty health care centers offer a wide range of non-surgical treatments which usually includes analgesics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, appropriate exercises or physical therapy, chiropractic care and joint splinting. Accurate diagnosis and customized treatments can go a long way in helping patients with arthritis maintain joint range of movement, manage pain, and improve quality of life.