The Differences between Types of Arthritis

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The Differences between Types of Arthritis
The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. They both fall under the umbrella term “arthritis,” which means “painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints.” It’s important, however, to understand their different symptoms, causes and treatments.

About Osteoarthritis

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. An estimated 27 million Americans age 25 and older suffer from osteoarthritis.1Osteoarthritis is the result of wear and tear on the joints.

Osteoarthritis starts with a breakdown of the smooth gliding surface that acts as a cushion between the joints, the cartilage. As the cartilage deteriorates, movement becomes painful, inflammation occurs and bone spurs can develop. These outgrowths from the bone may or may not cause additional symptoms that include pain, numbness and weakness, depending on their location. As the inflammatory process continues, the cartilage continues to wear down, resulting in bone rubbing against bone, further damaging the joint and increasing discomfort.

Who Gets Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on the body. Therefore, overweight people, who naturally put more stress on their joints, are susceptible to this condition. People with joint injuries are also more likely to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

Since joint stress causes osteoarthritis, the condition develops gradually over time and occurs most frequently in weight-bearing joints such as the feet, hips, knees and spine. While it is a painful condition, unlike some other forms of arthritis, it does not cause fatigue or sickness. People who have osteoarthritis usually have symptoms like joint stiffness and lack of flexibility. They may also notice snapping and crackling sounds when they move the affected joints.

About Rheumatoid Arthritis

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an extremely uncommon form of arthritis; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 1.5 million people in the U.S. have RA. Unlike osteoarthritis, which is caused by use and even abuse of the joints, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. The immune system is overly active and turns on the body it’s supposed to protect, mostly attacking the lining of the joints. The resulting inflammation can cause harm to the joints by eroding cartilage and bone.

Who Gets Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is up to three times more common in women than men. Symptoms generally begin around middle age. Researchers also believe there are genetic and environmental factors that predispose some people to the disease.2

What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause debilitating pain. RA symptoms include pain, swelling, and redness in the joints. Unlike osteoarthritis, RA can affect any joint in the body, at any time. Pain often moves from joint to joint. Many people with RA also suffer from other problems such as feeling tired or having a fever.

As you can see, while osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are both conditions that cause degeneration of the joints, they are quite different. Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear and rheumatoid arthritis by an immune response. They both cause pain, but rheumatoid arthritis is more likely to be severe and to affect multiple joints. Also, its symptoms go beyond the joints and can cause an overall feeling of illness.


1 Lawrence RC, Felson DT, Helmick CG, Arnold LM, Choi H, Deyo RA, Gabriel S, Hirsch R, Hochberg MC, Hunder GG, Jordan JM, Katz JN, Kremers HM, Wolfe F. Estimates of the prevalence of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in the United States: Part II. Arthritis Rheum. 2008 Jan;58(1):26-35.2 National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, What Is Arthritis? Fast Facts: An easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public, November 2014. Available at http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/rheumatic_disease/rheumatoid_arthritis_ff.asp. Accessed July 15, 2015.