What’s the Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis versus Rheumatoid Arthritis
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We break down the differences between these two common forms of arthritis to help you on your way to relief.

Arthritis affects 23% of American adults, but despite its prevalence, a lack of knowledge surrounding its many variations prevails. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, for example, are its two most common forms — but since they share a number of symptoms, they’re often confused with each other. Because of these similarities, many patients struggle to find proper treatment.

Indeed, the term ‘arthritis’ encompasses more than 100 different conditions, each of which requires its own specialized treatment. While we can’t outline every variety here, we’ll walk you through the two most common forms — osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis — so that you can better understand your condition and seek the appropriate treatment.

An Overview of Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting 30 to 50 million Americans. Caused by mechanical problems in the joints, it results in a gradual deterioration of the protective cartilage found there. As the cartilage degenerates, greater pressure is placed on the bones, causing significant pain and limiting the joint’s range of motion.

In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack the joints. As a result, the membranes surrounding the joints become greatly inflamed, gradually eroding the cartilage, bone, and connective tissues. The exact cause of this condition is unknown, but research indicates that genetics, hormones, and environmental factors all play a part.

The Distinct Symptoms of Each Condition

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis have distinct causes, but they’re often mistaken for one another because they share some of the same symptoms. Each condition, of course, results in pain and stiffness in the joints, but there are a number of subtle differences between them — here’s what to look for to distinguish between the two.

While osteoarthritis usually causes pain on a single side of the body, rheumatoid arthritis equally affects both sides of the body. Similarly, patients with osteoarthritis might experience stiffness after waking up for as long as half an hour, but patients with rheumatoid arthritis might suffer from stiffness for much longer. Understanding these differences can help your doctor correctly diagnose your condition and develop an appropriate course of treatment.

Pursuing Treatment for Your Arthritis

Since osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are incurable chronic conditions, treatments for them are designed to alleviate symptoms and provide long-term relief from pain.

Treatment for osteoarthritis begins by reducing pain and inflammation with anti-inflammatory medicines, cortisone shots, or analgesics. Once the inflammation subsides, patients can begin a physical therapy program designed to lessen the burden on the joints by expanding their range of motion and strengthening the surrounding muscles. If symptoms worsen, assistive devices like canes or walkers can also provide some relief. Though usually unnecessary, surgery can be effective in more severe cases.

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis initially focuses on reducing inflammation and slowing the condition’s progression with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, corticosteroids, or anti-rheumatic drugs. As is the case with osteoarthritis, patients with rheumatoid arthritis can also benefit from a physical therapy regimen that increases the joint’s range of motion and develops the surrounding muscles. Surgery may be necessary in more advanced cases, since this condition can result in permanent damage to the joints.

While seeking treatment for your arthritis may seem overwhelming, an experienced orthopedic specialist can provide the guidance and reassurance you need to manage your condition. With our years of experience in orthopedic medicine, New York Bone and Joint can offer you a warm, knowledgeable approach at every step of treatment. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.

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