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  • Emily-Haf

What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are two distinct forms of arthritis that affect the joints, but they differ in their underlying causes, disease progression, and treatment approaches.


Osteoarthritis: OA is primarily a degenerative joint disease that occurs due to the wear and tear of cartilage over time.

It often affects weight-bearing joints, such as the knees, hips, and spine, and is associated with factors like aging, joint injury, obesity, and genetic predisposition.

Rheumatoid arthritis: RA, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disorder. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium, a membrane that lines the joints. This leads to inflammation, joint damage, and can affect multiple joints simultaneously. The exact cause of RA is unknown, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Disease progression:

Osteoarthritis: OA typically progresses slowly over time and is characterised by the gradual loss of cartilage. As the cartilage breaks down, bone spurs may develop, causing joint stiffness, pain, and reduced mobility. The symptoms of OA can worsen with physical activity but tend to improve with rest.

Rheumatoid arthritis: RA is a chronic and systemic disease that involves inflammation of the joints and other body tissues. It typically affects the smaller joints, such as those in the hands and feet, but can involve larger joints as well. RA symptoms often include joint swelling, pain, stiffness, fatigue, and systemic manifestations like fever and weight loss. If left untreated, RA can lead to joint deformities and functional disabilities.

Treatment approaches:

Osteoarthritis: The management of OA primarily focuses on relieving pain, improving joint function, and maintaining an active lifestyle. Treatment options include pain medications, physical therapy, exercise, weight management, assistive devices (e.g., braces or canes), and in severe cases, joint replacement surgery.

Rheumatoid arthritis: RA treatment aims to control inflammation, prevent joint damage, and improve quality of life. It typically involves a combination of disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as methotrexate, corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for symptom relief, and newer biologic medications that target specific components of the immune system. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and lifestyle modifications are also important components of RA management.

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