What's The Difference Between Rheumatoid Arthritis And Osteoarthritis?

Rheumatologists treat both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis involves inflammation. Osteoarthritis involves bone structure. Both conditions can be quite painful and debilitating, but that is where the similarities end. 

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune, inflammatory disorder that strikes people of all ages. Similar to an allergic reaction, the immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake. This causes pain and swelling, often to the point of surgery. Because RA inflammation is the result of the immune system attacking healthy cells, your body creates antibodies to fight off the attack. This is what causes the swelling to occur.

Most often, your body's joints bear the brunt of the attack, eventually causing deformity. The synovial fluid between your joints becomes inflamed. Without treatment, that fluid no longer cushions the joints. The RA sufferer at this stage feels the severe pain of joints that are essentially fused, bone-on-bone. This is significantly different than the more common osteoarthritis.

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common diseases of middle age. It is the breakdown of bone tissue and cartilage. It is not an inflammatory disease. It is not an autoimmune disorder. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that causes pain and stiffness in joints. Many people suffer intensely from bone degeneration disease, becoming hunched over or needing surgery to fully replace the affected joints.

The Big Difference Makes All the Difference

Arguably, the greatest difference between RA and osteoarthritis is that RA is an autoimmune disease that attacks the lining of your joints which is an inflammatory response. Since RA is inflammatory in nature, your body's vital organs can also be affected by RA. This includes your eyes, your heart, and your kidneys. RA treatment must encompass all these issues holistically.

Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is a mechanical disease. That is, it is caused by age, wear, and tear on the cartilage that caps the end of your body's bone joints. Osteoarthritis doesn't affect vital organs or soft tissue like RA does. That makes the world of difference in how both are treated.

Yet both diseases bear the name arthritis. However, arthritis is an umbrella term that covers many different diseases and conditions. Rheumatologists are the specially-trained internists that deal with these musculoskeletal and inflammatory conditions. Both RA and osteoarthritis cause varying degrees of pain. Both utilize anti-inflammatory medicine and pain relievers to help sufferers get relief. But getting there requires differences in treatment, and that can make all the difference in the world of pain and suffering.