What is the Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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  • Written By: Alex Paul
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are both conditions affecting the joints, but have different underlying causes. Osteoarthritis is usually a sign of degeneration of cartilage, often as a consequence of age or overuse, whereas rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition which results in the body attacking its own joints. The symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are similar, although rheumatoid arthritis can affect the whole body, rather than just individual joints. Treatments for the two conditions are often different, although pain relief is important for both.

Osteoarthritis is more common than the rheumatoid variant and is usually caused by wear and tear. It is often seen in older people, although it can affect a person of any age; it affects joints such as the knee, hip, or fingers. Pain from osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage of a joint has worn down to such an extent that two bones begin to rub together. In most cases, osteoarthritis will start in a single joint.

Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease and can affect many joints at the same time. When this condition occurs, the lining of joints in the body becomes inflamed, resulting in pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition, and generally considered to be more painful and debilitating than osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can both have a big impact on a person’s life, however, especially if he or she is active.


Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are caused by different underlying problems. Rheumatoid arthritis is a result of chronic inflammation, which occurs when the body begins to attack its own joints. Osteoarthritis, in contrast, is sometimes referred to as a natural part of aging. It can also be caused by repetitive damage to the joint, which is sometimes the result of high impact activities such as running or basketball.

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis have similar symptoms. Pain is the most common sign, particularly in the morning. Rheumatoid arthritis may also cause a decrease in a joint’s range of motion. Other symptoms of both conditions include warmth, redness, and swelling around the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis can, in some cases, also affect organs.

The treatments for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis differ, although painkilling medication is often used for both. Osteoarthritis is usually treated with a mixture of medication and physical therapy to increase the strength of the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis is nearly always treated with medication including drugs to slow the progression of the disease. Surgery can sometimes be required for both conditions.


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