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Osteoarthritis Vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis: RA Vs. OA Comparison Guide

Osteoarthritis Vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis: RA Vs. OA Comparison Guide

Apria Editorial |

Pain and still joints are common symptoms of RA and OA. Despite the fact that they share the same medical designation, these two types of arthritis have different causes and require different approaches to therapy.

In this helpful comparison guide, we compare and contrast the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of RA and OA in depth. Keep reading to ensure the best care for you or a loved one who has been diagnosed with arthritis.

Arthritis and its close relatives come in more than a hundred different varieties. The two most common types of joint diseases are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA).

Pain and stiff joints are common symptoms of RA and OA. Despite the fact that they share the same medical designation, these two types of arthritis have different causes and require different approaches to therapy.

OA is more prevalent than RA. While both may lead to joint inflammation, the inflammation caused by RA is far more debilitating. Researchers are currently trying to determine whether inflammation is a cause or a consequence of OA and what role inflammation plays in the progression of the condition.

Below, we compare and contrast the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of RA and OA in depth. Keep reading to ensure the best care for you or a loved one who has been diagnosed with arthritis.

What Is The Difference Between Osteoarthritis And Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is caused by the breakdown of bone cartilage in your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is when the immune system mistakenly attacks the joint lining first and then the joints.

Some symptoms of OA and RA overlap, but RA is more likely to affect more than one joint and progress in a symmetrical fashion on both sides of the body. On the other hand, OA commonly affects many different joints all over the body in no particular pattern.

In addition, RA symptoms can progress over the course of a few weeks and can occur at any age, whereas OA more commonly occurs later in life and acute pain develops over a few years of degeneration.

What Causes Osteoarthritis Vs Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Both OA and RA can affect the hands, cause inflammation of joints and can affect many different joints in the body. Cartilage and other joint tissues degenerate or develop a structural change, resulting in OA. These changes can accelerate joint deterioration, which begins slowly and becomes more progressive over time.

An autoimmune disorder, like RA, occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. The exact cause of this is unknown at this time. Normal antibody production by the immune system helps the body fight off harmful microorganisms like viruses and bacteria, but with RA, the immune system attacks the joint lining instead.

What Are OA Vs. RA Risk Factors?

RA and OA share at least a couple of risk factors. You may be more likely to get RA or OA if other family members have it. Carrying excess weight also contributes to both diseases.

Factors that raise your risk of developing OA include:

  • Joint overuse
  • Joint defects, e.g. unequal leg lengths or knocked knees
  • Joint injury
  • Older age
  • Unhealthy lifestyle

While it is less clear what factors increase the risk of RA, the following play a role:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Being a female
  • Exposure to a virus may trigger a negative autoimmune response
  • Working with asbestos or silica
  • Smoking

How To Diagnose Osteoarthritis Vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis

When diagnosing OA, your doctor will inquire about your symptoms while doing a thorough physical examination to rule out any potential causes.

Expect questions like:

  • How would you characterize your discomfort: burning, painful, or acute?
  • Does morning stiffness affect your joints? How long does the stiffness remain?
  • Do your joints become swollen?

In order to diagnose arthritis, your doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination, looking for signs including joint tenderness, swelling, and muscle weakness. To rule out joint damage and other possible causes of your discomfort, your doctor may recommend x-rays or blood tests.

Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis

Diagnosing RA early is crucial. Within a year of disease onset, irreversible joint degeneration may have already begun.

In addition to asking about your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will do a physical examination to look for evidence of joint swelling or soreness. Your doctor may decide to do a series of tests, including blood work, lab tests, and imaging studies, such as a CT scan and MRI, to rule out any other underlying cause for arthritis symptoms.

What Are RA Vs. OA Symptoms?

RA is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system malfunctions and targets the body rather than outside infection. It targets the synovial membrane, which encases and protects the joints. When you have RA, your immune system identifies the joints as threats and attacks them.

Small joints, including those in your hands and feet, are a common target of RA. The joints most at risk for OA are the weight-bearing ones, e.g. hips and knees, followed by the ones you use the most, e.g., hands and spine.

Both conditions cause joint pain and stiffness; however, morning stiffness that lasts for an hour or longer is a common symptom of RA. That's one of the many ways in which RA stands apart from OA.

In addition to these, RA symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Moderate fevers
  • Lack of appetite
  • Rheumatoid nodules are lumps that form just beneath the skin
  • Symmetrical patterns of inflammation

OA is not an autoimmune condition. Instead, it occurs when the cartilage between your joints wears down, which is commonly due to normal mechanical wear and tear. As a consequence, the bones on each side of the cartilage become disfigured and change shape, which causes a lot of discomfort.

This includes:

  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Pain
  • Grating sensation
  • Loss of flexibility
  • Bone spurs
  • Swelling

Which Is Worse: Rheumatoid Arthritis Or Osteoarthritis?

Both RA and OA are long-term conditions that may severely impact a person's quality of life. Without proper care, both can deteriorate over time. People with OA and RA may experience modest to severe impairments in their everyday lives.

In most cases, OA only manifests itself in a small number of joints, and its symptoms are localized. With RA, however, it is harder to predict how it will progress. Additionally, with RA having no distinctive cause, it can be difficult to diagnose, which means many patients go through a lot of trial and error before being accurately diagnosed. Experiencing these symptoms can be overwhelming and isolating when the diagnosis is unknown.

What Is The Treatment For Osteoarthritis Vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Every patient is treated differently. Though OA can't be cured, its symptoms may be controlled with medication. Treatment options will be discussed between you and your doctor.

Treatment for Patients with Osteoarthritis:

OA is a degenerative disease that can be managed with the following:

  • Pain Relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as paracetamol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to alleviate mild discomfort. However, if they do not help, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication or injections directly into the joint.
  • Ice or Heat Therapy:Heat may aid in the relaxation of the muscles around the afflicted joint. After exertion or exercise, ice may help alleviate discomfort and swelling. Your doctor may prescribe a gel, ointment, or heating/cooling pads to alleviate joint discomfort.
  • Weight Loss:Losing weight can ease the burden on your joints. The weight of the lower extremity joints is reduced by 3-5 pounds for every pound of body weight removed.
  • Exercise:By increasing muscle mass, you can take some of the strain off of your joints. OA patients would benefit from engaging in regular physical activity. Get in touch with your doctor to discuss the best form of exercise for you.
  • Surgery:Replacement surgery may be recommended if noninvasive treatments fail to alleviate discomfort in a painful joint.

Treatment for Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Medication, physical therapy, and behavioral modifications are only some of the lifelong components of effective treatment. The condition can be managed when therapy is initiated early and progression is slowed significantly.

Regular consultations with your doctor are essential while using RA medication due to the risk of adverse effects.

Find out more about prescribed treatments for RA here.

Your doctor may prescribe a complete joint replacement if your pain and joint function do not improve after trying medication, exercise, and other lifestyle adjustments.

If you have been newly diagnosed, you can make the following lifestyle adjustments to help manage your condition:

  • Rest when tired
  • Use splints, braces, canes, walkers, and other assistive devices to alleviate joint strain
  • Maintain a healthy weight & balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly

Optimum Health And Arthritis Pain Management

The following commonly used approaches may alleviate arthritis pain:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium may help with the discomfort caused by arthritic flares ups.
  • The discomfort from sore joints may be alleviated by rubbing an ointment containing capsaicin directly into the skin. It may be used alone or in combination with other oral medications.

Our recommendation:

The use of an assistive massage therapy device can help promote blood circulation and mobility in the region.

Our recommendation: BioMedical Revived II TENS, EMS, & Massage Device

Free Rheumatoid Arthritis And Osteoarthritis Resources & Support With ApriaHome

At ApriaHome, we are passionate about our mission to provide helpful resources for patients and loved ones diagnosed with different forms of arthritis. Supporting patients and their loved ones through the process of learning about and living with chronic disorders like OA and RA is our top priority. We accomplish this by providing unparalleled support, comprehensive guidance, and premium-quality medical equipment and treatment solutions.

Browse our extensive range of medical equipment treatment solutions available from the comfort of your own home. Order now and receive free nationwide delivery on all purchases over $99.

Need advice or more information? Our friendly and experienced agents are available on call at (800) 780-1508 between 8:00 am - 10:00 pm EST. Get in touch today.


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