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Difference Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA) are two types of arthritis with distinct causes and traits. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, causing inflammation, pain, stiffness, and potential joint damage. It may also cause systemic symptoms such as fatigue and fever.

Osteoarthritis, conversely, is a degenerative joint disease mainly triggered by wear and tear on the joints over time. It affects weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips, and spine, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. While both Arthritis and Osteoarthritis have similar symptoms such as joint pain and stiffness, their underlying issues and treatments are different. With rheumatoid arthritis patients need more vigorous inflammation control to prevent joint damage, whereas osteoarthritis treatment and management aims on relieving symptoms and protecting joint function.

In short, Rheumatoid arthritis is a joint disease caused by the body’s immune system. Osteoarthritis is also a disease of the joints which affects the cartilage found between the bones.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is caused by an autoimmune reaction in the body in which the lining of the joints are inflamed.

Causes and prevalence:

RA is due to autoimmunity in which the body attacks its own cells. The joints most commonly affected are those of the fingers and wrists. RA is more common in females, and most often first appears between ages 16 to 40.

Symptoms and complications:

The signs of RA include stiffness of the joints. The joints also appear red, sore, and swollen. The wrists, fingers, elbows, shoulders, knees, hips, and ankles can all be affected in this way. Usually, the presentation of RA is symmetrical in that the same joint on both sides of the body is inflamed. Complications of RA include coronary artery disease, osteoporosis, nodules, and lung issues.


RA is diagnosed by a combination of a physical exam and various tests. Imaging tests, such as ultrasound and MRI may be helpful in diagnosis and in establishing the level of joint damage that the person has.


Treating RA involves using medications such as methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and leflunomide. These medicines can help decrease the rate of joint damage. 

What is Osteoarthritis?


Osteoarthritis is an inflammatory condition where the cartilage between joints wears away.

Causes and prevalence:

The cause of osteoarthritis is usually an injury or due to excess weight on joints as happens if people are obese. There may also be structures of the joint that are not properly aligned, causing problems later in life. It is most common in the elderly but starts to present in the person when they are in their 40s or 50s. Osteoarthritis worsens with age, with many people over 80 having the condition.

Symptoms and complications:

Symptoms you have with osteoarthritis include pain, stiffness, swelling, and a lack of flexibility of the affected joint. Complications of osteoarthritis include having problems with daily life as your ability to move about easily may be affected. The person may have trouble sleeping and feel depressed, and they may experience decreased mobility.


A physical exam combined with X-rays is how this condition is diagnosed. The X-rays are likely to show bone remodeling and damage, and bone spurs are often present at the joint that is of concern. 


Treating osteoarthritis is difficult as it is a progressive disease. However, using non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can provide some pain relief for the person. A person may need a knee or hip replacement surgery if their joints are severely affected. 

Difference between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteo?


Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where the joints of the body are attacked by the immune system.


RA is caused by an autoimmune response involving chemicals like cytokines and chemokines, which the body releases. Osteoarthritis is due to a previous injury, misaligned structures at the joints, and obesity placing pressure on the joints.


In the case of RA, the joints are symmetrically impacted; in other words, the same joint on both sides of the body is inflamed. In the case of osteoarthritis, the affected joint or joints are on only one side of the body. 


Stiffness, redness, pain, edema, and warmth of the affected joint is a symptom of RA. Pain and stiffness in the affected joint is a symptom of osteoarthritis.


Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed by physical exam, ultrasound, and MRI. Osteoarthritis is diagnosed by X-rays and physical exam.

Age of onset

RA first appears between ages 18 to 40 years. Osteoarthritis is first evident between ages 40 and 50.

Difference Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

summary of the difference Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the joints of the body become too inflamed.
  • Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease in which the cartilage pieces found at the joints degenerate and cause inflammation.


How do I know if I have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis?

With RA, the joints are affected symmetrically while this is not the case with osteoarthritis. Only a doctor can definitively diagnose if you have osteoarthritis or RA.

How to tell the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is when there is a decrease in bone mass and is not easily recognized unless you have a bone scan. RA causes pain in the joints on both sides of the body and it affects the lining of the joints. 

Can you have both osteo and rheumatoid arthritis?

It is possible that you can have both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in hands and joints?

Osteoarthritis affects the joints nearest the finger tips, while this is not normally the case with RA. In the case of RA, the hands themselves and other finger joints, and wrists are affected.

How can I tell what kind of arthritis I have?

You need to visit a doctor and have imaging scans done to tell what kind of arthritis you have.

What are three signs of rheumatoid arthritis?

Joints are red, swollen, and painful on both sides of the body.

What foods are bad for arthritis?

You should avoid sugar, processed foods, and red meats.

What are the 4 stages of osteoarthritis?

Stage 1 is when a small bone spur is evident at the joint; stage 2 is when some damage is evident at the joint and you feel some pain after activity where you used the joint; stage 3 is when pain and stiffness is evident and damage of the cartilage is seen; stage 4 is when the pain is severe and mobility is limited.

What foods trigger arthritis?

Some people state that tomatoes, pasta, sugar, and butter and margarine, make their symptoms worse.

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  1. Rheumatoid arthritis can be a difficult thing to deal with if you’re not on good medications. Thank goodness for all of the many wonderful treatments currently available and all the new ones coming out all the time!


  1. Difference Between Orthodontics and Orthopedics | Difference Between | Orthodontics vs Orthopedics

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References :

[0]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAEFlXpGr2k-osteoarthritis/

[1]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MADBUCArqGk-rheumatoid-arthritis/

[2]Frysh, Paul. “Complications of osteoarthritis””. WebMD, 2023, https://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/osteoarthritis-complications

[3]Yaseen, Kinanah. “Osteoarthritis”. Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2022, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/musculoskeletal-and-connective-tissue-disorders/joint-disorders/osteoarthritis-oa

[4]Yaseen, Kinanah. “Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)”. Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2022, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/musculoskeletal-and-connective-tissue-disorders/joint-disorders/rheumatoid-arthritis-ra

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