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  • Jessica Frizzell, PA-C

What is the Difference Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis?





When it comes to managing autoimmune diseases, arthritis is often part of the picture. In casual conversations, you will probably hear the two terms thrown around interchangeably. Because of this, the implications and meanings of these terms may be confused, thought their causes, treatments, and prognoses are very different.


But we want to set the record straight.


The word “arthritis” is not a catch-all term, and comparing rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis is a prime example.


Yes, both medical conditions contain “arthritis” in their names. Yes, both are types of arthritis. But no, they are not brought on by the same underlying reasons or root causes. They also do not have the same disease progression or follow the same treatment plans.


The Mayo Clinic website explains: “Rheumatic diseases are autoimmune and inflammatory diseases that cause your immune system to attack your joints, muscles, bones and organs. Rheumatic diseases are often grouped under the term ‘arthritis’ — which is used to describe over 100 diseases and conditions. This does not include the most common form of arthritis, known as osteoarthritis, which results in a breakdown of bone and cartilage in joints rather than inflammation.”


What does this mean for a patient battling rheumatoid arthritis (commonly called RA)? What about a patient diagnosed with osteoarthritis (referred to as OA)? When you know what is happening to your body, you can better recognize your symptoms and understand the appropriate treatments.


The Mayo Clinic describes how the two differ: “Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, involves the wearing away of the cartilage that caps the bones in your joints. With rheumatoid arthritis, the synovial membrane that protects and lubricates joints becomes inflamed, causing pain and swelling. Joint erosion may follow.”


Are you concerned you could have RA or OA?

Are you experiencing worrisome symptoms?

Are you looking for answers about your body?


You’ve found the right place to get help with either condition! A rheumatologist treats all kinds of rheumatic diseases and arthritis, including RA and OA. Statistics show these conditions are more common than you might think.


According to the American College of Rheumatology: “RA is the most common form of autoimmune arthritis. It affects more than 1.3 million Americans. About 75% of RA patients are women. In fact, 1 – 3% of women may get rheumatoid arthritis in their lifetime. The disease most often begins between the ages of 30 and 50. However, RA can start at any age.”


In comparison, the American College of Rheumatology states: “OA is a top cause of disability in older people … OA is a frequently slowly progressive joint disease typically seen in middle-aged to elderly people … It is commonly referred to as ‘wear and tear’ of the joints, but we now know that OA is a disease of the entire joint, involving the cartilage, joint lining, ligaments, and bone … OA tends to affect commonly used joints such as the hands and spine, and the weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees.”


What should you do if you think you have RA or OA? See a rheumatologist to receive the correct diagnosis!


It is vital to know the exact condition you are dealing with, especially since the overall care and specific treatments are drastically different between the two.


The healthcare team at Paducah Rheumatology is here for you! We are dedicated to helping you learn about your body and discover what works best to treat your condition. Give us a call at 270-408-6100, and let’s get you feeling and moving better.


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