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Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis

Posted Feb 22 2010 4:47pm

There are varying types of arthritis.  Two of the most common are Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis.  While both can be painful and debilitating, they are distinguishable. X-ray and Laboratory tests can help physicians diagnose the correct type of arthritis but we can also see a variation in the way the disease presents itself.

Osteoarthritis injection

Origins of Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis

When trying to distinguish the symptoms of osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis we need to start with the causes of each. Osteoarthritis which is also known as Degenerative Joint Disease or Wear and Tear Arthritis has an etiology totally different than RA.   OA is due to a breakdown of the joint cartilage, thus the name wear and tear.  The cartilage around a bone serves as a cushion between the bones, degeneration or wear of this cartilage results in loss of this cushion which can lead to the bone rubbing on the connecting bone.  This is a very painful condition and usually begins in a single joint.   RA is an inflammatory autoimmune response of our bodies and usually affects the same joints on each side of the body, symmetrically. There has not been any one single cause of RA identified.

Cause and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is considered an effect of the aging process.  Other factors that can increase the risk for development of OA are injury to the joint, excessive weight on the joints, repetitive use or stress of the joint and a family history of the disease.

When looking closely at Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are noted to be similar.  The difference is primarily in the way these symptoms present.  With OA, the pain is most apparent after repetitive use or activity of the joint. The stiffness in the morning lasts only a half hour or less, and the pain is often worse as the day progresses.  Bone spurs and enlargements of the joints occur and the joints become swollen, lose range of motion and feel warmer after either inactivity or activity.  OA is common to the weight bearing joints such as the hips and knees.

Cause and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an abnormal autoimmune response which produces inflammation.  For years researchers have searched to find the cause but no single cause has been discovered.  The most common theories state a genetic predisposition that has a triggering event.

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include pain and swelling of the joint, limited range of motion of the affected joint, morning stiffness and redness and warmth of affected joints.  Differing from OA, morning stiffness can take an hour and often several hours to overcome.  Rest and inactivity of the joint increases the stiffness and pain.   Development of symptoms is generally symmetrical to both sides of the body and not just one joint on one side of the body as in OA.

Another difference notable in osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis is that RA can affect any joint in the body, but the joints of the small bones in the hands and feet are most affected.  With RA, it is not always just the joints that are affected; RA can have effects on the entire body including the lungs, heart and kidneys.  It can cause extreme fatigue, weight loss and malaise.

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