Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of all the arthritic diseases. It occurs for many people as a fairly natural part of the aging process. Over time, the cartilage cushioning the joints slowly breaks down, allowing the bones to rub against each other. This friction causes damage to the bones afflicted, and can be incredibly painful.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), on the other hand, is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that has a high potential to affect other parts of the body versus just bones and joints. This form of arthritic disease occurs when the immune system mistakenly attack's your body's own tissues as a foreign invader. This causes swelling most commonly present in the joints, but which may also present in other parts of the body.

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis: Onset

The onset of osteoarthritis tends to be later on in life and develops very slowly over the course of years. Rheumatoid Arthritis, however, can develop at any time in life (including adolescence), and comparatively develops rapidly over weeks or months.

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms

These two arthritic diseases share a few similar symptoms. This includes pain in the joints, stiffness that is worse in the morning or after physical exertion, deformity in the joints, and difficulties in mobility as the disease progress.

There are two major differences in these diseases, however. The first is that the prominent swelling in RA is not seen in osteoarthritis. The second is that RA affects areas of the body other than the joints in around 40% of cases, while osteoarthritis does not present with body-wide symptoms. Since RA is an autoimmune disease, swelling can present in the eyes, skin, salivary glands, lungs, kidneys, heart, blood vessels, bone marrow, and nerve tissues. This causes symptoms and complications not apparent in osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Joint Pattern

With all rheumatic disease, a common pattern in which joints are affected is seen. Osteoarthritis shows that one side of the body (usually the dominant one) is typically affected first, and may even be specific to one set of joints. For example, some individuals with osteoarthritis may only have problems with their wrists, knuckles, and finger joints. Another patient may present with issues only in their hips. Each case varies.

With Rheumatoid Arthritis affected joints typically appear symmetrically, meaning that the same joint on both sides of the body is affected at the same time. The disease also tends to affect smaller joints, like those on the feet and hands, before gradually spreading to medium-sized joints (ankles, elbows, wrists), and then finally to larger joints like the shoulders and hips. It is most often progressive, meaning that all joints will eventually be affected.

In both diseases, it is common for mental health to suffer. Individuals with either disease may show signs of anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders.

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis: Treatment

Neither disease is curable, so both forms of treatment are aimed at reducing damage and increasing ones overall quality of life. Similarities in treatment may include pain medications, physical therapy, exercise, weight loss, healthier lifestyle habits, and mental health therapy.

In Rheumatoid Arthritis, other measures are taken to help slow the disease's progression. In addition to pain medications, this may include corticosteroids and NSAIDs to reduce swelling. For patients with RA who do not respond well to physical therapy, a variety of different surgeries may be used to help ease discomfort.

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis: Outlook

Patients with both diseases are typically able to live productive, meaningful lives. For individuals with RA, however, it is imperative to receive an early diagnosis and undergo aggressive treatment, or else the quality and length of life can be affected. Osteoarthritis does not decrease an individual's lifespan but can affect the quality of life for severe cases.

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