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Osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis: how are they different?

Difference between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is osteoarthritis?

The most common type of arthritis, affecting millions around the world, is osteoarthritis (OA). This degenerative disease occurs when the protective cartilage, which covers and protects the ends of the bones, deteriorates over time. Although OA can affect any joint, it most commonly affects the hands, knees, hips, and spine. The symptoms include:

  • Mild to severe joint pain
  • Stiffness, swelling, and tenderness
  • Less movement flexibility
  • Bone spur formation
  • Cracking and sound when you move the joint (called creptus)


The symptoms of OA are typically manageable, but the joint damage is irreversible. Staying active, keeping a healthy weight, and receiving specific therapies may help slow disease progression and improve pain and joint function. Factors that can cause osteoarthritis are:

  • Age:OA usually happens in old age because of joint wear and tear
  • Gender: OA is more prevalent in women than men, but the reason is unclear
  • Genetic: OA can be passed down from family member to family member
  • Weight: Weight can be a cause because the joints cannot hold the person’s weight effectively. Hips and knees are likely to be affected in this case
  • Joint damage: Joint damage due to external factors like playing sports, lifting heavy weights, or an accident can lead to OA.
  • Prior diseases: Pre-existing diseases such as diabetes, can be a precursor to OA.


What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease. It differs from other types of arthritis in that it affects multiple joints simultaneously. The inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis can induce severe bone erosion and joint deformity over time. Usually, the immune system will send antibodies against bacteria and viruses to fight infection, but in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, these mistakenly reach the lining of your joints.

These antibodies then attack the tissue lining of your joints, leaving them sore and inflamed. While there is no remedy for rheumatoid arthritis, physiotherapy and medicines can help slow the progression of the disease. Most cases can be managed with anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS). RA can onset anytime between the ages of 30 years and 60 years. However, it also occurs among children, teens, and young adults. It’s usually diagnosed as young-onset rheumatoid arthritis (YORA). The symptoms of RA include:

  • Pain, swelling and tenderness in multiple joints
  • Pain and stiffness in joints on either side of the body
  • You may also experience fever, fatigue, and weakness
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sweating
  • Inflammation that results in chest pain and dry eyes
  • Feeling tired and lacking energy


Several causes play a role in someone developing rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Age: RA can happen to any age, but it is mostly diagnosed in ages between 40 years to 60 years.
  • Gender: RA is more common in women as opposed to men. There may be some link between oestrogen and the prevalence of this disorder.
  • Genetics: Various environmental and genetic factors, and your diet, cause rheumatoid arthritis. It is unknown what the genetic link is but having a relative with the condition raises your chances of developing it.
  • Weight: Overweight people have a significantly higher likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors usually assess this by looking at your BMI (body mass index). BMI calculates your height and weight to determine if your weight is healthy. The healthy BMI range is usually 18.5 to 24.9.
  • Smoking: Tobacco usage and smoking increase your chances of getting rheumatoid arthritis, but also other health problems.


If you have RA, you are also at risk of developing other health complications, like:

  • Osteoporosis: a condition that makes the bones weak and brittle.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: a condition that causes numbness, weakness and tingling in the hand and forearm.
  • Inflammation in other parts of the body like lungs, heart, eyes, and blood vessels.
  • Joint damage
  • Heart disease
  • Cervical myelopathy: a disorder affecting the spine.
  • Lymphoma: a cancer of the lymphatic system ( the germ fighting network of the body)
  • Sjogren's syndrome: an autoimmune disorder that causes dry eyes and mouth, and dry skin.


What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

The symptoms of both types of arthritis can be similar, but there are several ways to distinguish between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is that the former happens because of daily joint wear and tear. It is a degenerative joint disorder. The latter is an autoimmune disorder because your immune system behaves in a faulty manner. Instead of attacking problem-causing bacteria and viruses, your antibodies consider the soft lining of your joints as a threat. This leads to fluid build-up that creates inflammation in the joints.

Joint pain is common in both types of arthritis. In OA, the pain usually occurs in big joints like your entire hands and spine, your knees, and your hips. RA affects the smaller joints of your hands and feet. OA develops gradually over time as the joint cartilage begins to deteriorate. Your joint bones will eventually rub against one another.

In contrast, RA pain and stiffness can develop and aggravate over several weeks or months. Joint pain is not always the first indication of RA.  It could also start with flu-like symptoms like drowsiness, fever, weakness, and mild joint aches. Joint stiffness is experienced in both these conditions, especially in the morning after a period of rest.

In OA, the stiffness gets better after about 30 minutes or more of movement. In RA, the stiffness along with pain can remain for longer. The manifestation of RA is symmetrical, which means it will affect both sides of the body. The same may not be the case in osteoarthritis.


Treatment for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

There is currently no cure for both types of arthritis, as well as no way to counter joint damage that has already occurred. Both diseases' treatments aim to alleviate pain and improve joint function. The primary goal of RA treatment is to slow down the disease progression and for your body to function against its interest. Pain medications, using heat or ice to soothe pain, exercise, and weight loss (if needed for osteoarthritis) are usually recommended. For both disorders, joint replacement surgery may be needed.

Meril Life offers the OPULENT GOLD KNEE for Total Knee Replacement required by patients who have osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. For young and old patients who need to undergo knee replacement surgery or knee arthroplasty, this knee implant system can give them the ability to be active again and regain their quality of life.


Final note

Early detection is key to counter further joint damage in the case of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both types of arthritis have some similarities, but the primary difference is that RA is an autoimmune disorder while OA is a degenerative joint disorder.