Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis: Difference and Comparison

The word arthritis as a whole means the inflammation of the joints. It can be because of one of the many factors and causes.


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The most common and annoying complaints because of arthritis are Pain and restriction of movements in the joints.

Key Takeaways

  1. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease caused by wear and tear, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy joint tissue.
  2. Osteoarthritis affects cartilage, leading to joint pain and stiffness, while rheumatoid arthritis causes joint lining inflammation, resulting in pain, swelling, and deformity.
  3. Treatment for osteoarthritis focuses on managing pain and maintaining mobility, while rheumatoid arthritis treatment aims to reduce inflammation, manage symptoms, and slow disease progression

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. Some people call it degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. It occurs most frequently in the hands, hips, and knees. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body instead of intruders.

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis

Though these two appear like similar things, they have vast differences between them.


Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonOsteoarthritisRheumatoid arthritis
Age at which it occursUsually, in elderly ageIt can occur at any age
Causative factorsWear and tear changes because of ageingDefects in the immunity of the individual against self-tissues
Development speedRelatively slowerAlmost develops rapidly in a short time
Stiffness of jointsMostly present during the end of the dayMore in the morning
Involving jointsJoints on one side are affected first, then spread to the other side and other joints.Most commonly affects the same type of joints on both sides at the same time and spreads from there.
Patient complaintsMost of the time only, pain in the affected joints only presentPain in the joints, along with general weakness and other symptoms, will be present.
The nature of the joint affectedThe pain only will be present with no swelling in most cases,the joint will be red and swollen along together with the pain.


What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is so far the most common type of joint problem all over the world, especially in the elderly population. As the name indicates, the bones and cartilages involved in forming the joints become affected and inflamed.

The main thing occurring here is that the cartilage present in the joint, which makes the movements smooth, breaks down, and the raw surface of bone beneath it becomes exposed to the friction force during the movements.

Articular cartilage, because of ageing, will have an increase in the water content and a decrease in the quality of the protein makeup in the joints. This will lead to wear and tear changes.

In the medical fraternity, based on the causative factors, osteoarthritis is classified into Primary and Secondary osteoarthritis.

 The primary type is the one that may be because of the ageing process. The secondary type means that osteoarthritis arises because of pre-existing defects like gout and rheumatoid arthritis.

The patient will complain mainly of pain while making movements and stiffness during the morning.

The investigation that can be used to see the changes that took place in the joint because of this defect is an X-ray. But recent advancements like arthroscopy will also aid in the confirmation and staging of the defect in a person.

Because of the damage to the articular cartilage, there will be irregular growth of bones, called spurs. Spurs in the medical fraternity are called osteophytes.

The management of osteoarthritis involves a medical approach, lifestyle changes, and physiotherapy.

The medication most commonly prescribed is of those classes of NSAIDs and other analgesics. Lifestyle changes include avoiding things like climbing stairs, squatting, sitting cross-legged…

Physiotherapy exercises like Quadriceps strengthening exercises are advised. Apart from these standard approaches, surgical modes of joint replacement are also an option in severe cases.


What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is one in which the joints are damaged because of metabolic and immunological causes. The main culprit in this disorder is our body’s immune system targeting the joint lining and destroying the cartilage.

There will be deposition of toxic metabolites in the joint cavities also.

Here the damage will lead to painful swelling of the joints and stiffness of the joints because of the pathology underlying it. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, not only the joints are involved, but other essential tissues like lungs, skin, eyes, heart, kidneys, salivary glands and blood vessels are also involved and damaged.

The complaints of the patient suffering from rheumatoid arthritis will include, pain and swelling of joints, easy fatigability,  fever, loss of appetite, and restriction of movement, especially during the morning times.

The investigation employed here most of those involving blood as the sample. The markers that are used to confirm the diagnosis using the blood can be Rheumatoid factor(RF), anti-CCP (Anti Cyclic-citrullinated Peptide), CRP(C-reactive protein), ANA( antinuclear antibody) and many more.

But these are the most commonly used ones.

The management of Rheumatoid Arthritis is primarily dependent on medications. The drugs used here are all classified into one important group called DMARD(Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatoid Drugs).

NSAIDs(Non- Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) like ibuprofen are employed to alleviate the disease’s pain. There are several advancements in the medications prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis, but they are not affordable to everyone.

Managing a patient suffering from rheumatoid arthritis is a multisystem approach focusing on the symptoms and the pathology underlying it.

rheumatoid arthritis

Main Differences Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

  1. Osteoarthritis occurs at an elderly age. Rheumatoid arthritis pitches in at any age possible.
  2. Osteoarthritis is because of damage caused by wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis is because of damage incurred by metabolic and immunological defects.
  3. Osteoarthritis patients will complain only of pain and restriction of movement. Rheumatoid arthritis patients will complain of pain, restriction of movement, fever, loss of appetite, swelling in joints, and generalized weakness.
  4. The stiffness of joints is most common at the end of the day in osteoarthritis. Stiffness is more common in the morning in rheumatoid arthritis.
  5. The management of osteoarthritis includes medical, lifestyle changes, physiotherapy, and also surgical approach. Rheumatoid arthritis management revolves around only the medical approach most of the time.
  6. Osteoarthritis does not follow the symmetrical involvement of joints, whereas rheumatoid arthritis will.
Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
  1. https://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/default.htm
  2. https://www.medicinenet.com/osteoarthritis/article.htm
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353648
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