Are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis the same condition?

rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are different types of arthritis. They share some similar characteristics but will require different forms of treatment. In the United States about 50 million people live with arthritis. Out of these cases about 27 million people have osteoarthritis while 1.3 million people have rheumatoid arthritis. The huge numbers of people living with osteoarthritis compared to those who live with rheumatoid arthritis have often led to people thinking all arthritis is osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease while osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease. Autoimmune diseases cause the immune system to attack its own healthy tissues. They usually attack the synovium which is a soft lining around the joints. This causes fluid build up resulting to tenderness, pain and inflammation which are symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis
Image Source –

On the other hand, osteoarthritis is as a result of breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage helps in protecting the joints by ensuring smooth joint movement. When the cartilage wears out your bones rub against each other resulting to pain and inflammation.

Osteoarthritis affects people of old age as a result of wear and tear of the cartilage while rheumatoid arthritis can develop at any age even children can have it though it is very rare. Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affect people of age 30 to 50 years while osteoarthritis affect people later in life even though there have been cases of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis which occurs before the age of 16.

The source of pain for osteoarthritis is from cartilage which has to be worn out with time making the bones to rub on each other while in rheumatoid arthritis the immune system attacks the synovium causing the cell-signaling molecules such as the interleukins and tumor-necrosis factors to get into the blood stream resulting to swelling, fever and several other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis affects the joints but different types of joints. Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the small joints such as the toe and wrist causing painful, red, warm and swollen joints. Rheumatoid arthritis affects the joints symmetrically.

In osteoarthritis, the commonly affected joints are the large weight bearing joints such as the knees and the hips. Osteoarthritis is asymmetrical and it affects a few numbers of joints while rheumatoid arthritis can spread to several other joints in the body.

Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects women than men. Women also tend to have severe symptoms compared to men. On the other hand osteoarthritis affects both genders equally but the distribution of the disease is dependent on the age. Osteoarthritis commonly affects men who are below the age of 55 while women are commonly affected later in life.

The onset and progression of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis vary. In rheumatoid arthritis, the flares can be experienced abruptly then disappears and appears in irregular patterns. This commonly occurs in early stages. In osteoarthritis development is slowly. The cartilage wears down continuously leading to more pain.

Patients of rheumatoid arthritis develop lumps under the skin called nodules commonly on the elbow. The lump are of varying sizes and some can be as big as a golf ball. Nodules can be painful, the more painful they are, the more severe your condition. Osteoarthritis is not associated with nodules.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes more joint deformities than osteoarthritis which can result to displacement of the joints and erosion. On the other hand, people with osteoarthritis may develop spurs in the shoulder, fingers, hips, elbow, knees and ankles.

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known but genetics, smoking, hormones, environmental exposures such as bacterial and viral infections are believed to play a role in triggering the disease.

In osteoarthritis, the immune system is not involved. Factors that are believed to play a role in triggering osteoarthritis include joint injury, joint overuse, muscle weakness, age, genetics and obesity.

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis causes morning stiffness but rheumatoid arthritis stiffness usually last longer than stiffness of osteoarthritis which commonly last within half an hour but it can return after being engaged in physical activities.

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the joint and other organs of the body. It can put you at risk of heart diseases and cancer. Other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include dryness of the eyes, mouth and nerve damage. On the other hand, osteoarthritis only affects the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis can shorten the lifespan of a patient by about three years. This is majorly contributed by risk of heart disease though the treatment used currently that target inflammation can help in managing the disease and help the patients to carry on with their lives. Osteoarthritis does not have an impact on the lifespan of the people with the disease. It usually makes the patients to be less active.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are treated using different forms of medication. Osteoarthritis is treated using oral NSAIDs such as naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen to reduce pain. Patients of rheumatoid arthritis also use NSAIDs but with oral steroids such as prednisone.

In addition patients of rheumatoid arthritis will need drugs that are used by cancer patients for chemotherapy so as to prevent joint destruction.