Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are diseases of the joints. When arthritis occurs, damaged joints no longer cushion the bones, and as a result, the bones rub together and cause pain. The two conditions are among hundreds of different variations of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form, while rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed less frequently.
The main differences between the two conditions are the origins of the joint damage. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s immune system targets the joints and attacks them. Arthritis experts cannot pinpoint exactly what causes it, but they do suggest that family history and lifestyle factors like smoking or excessive weight gain may give patients a higher risk of having it.
Osteoarthritis is caused by the natural deterioration of the joints. As we age, the joints may begin to be less smooth and wear out over time. For this reason, symptoms may not appear until later in life.
Both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis cause pain in the joints. Skin may feel warm to the touch and appear swollen, although people with osteoarthritis may experience less swelling than a patient with rheumatoid arthritis. Patients typically feel stiffness in the mornings that can last an hour or longer. Patients may also find that they are less flexible than before, and have limited range of motion around the affected joint.
Osteoarthritis symptoms tend to relate to the joints, but patients with rheumatoid arthritis might experience systemic symptoms. For example, one might feel fatigued or run a fever often.
Both conditions are susceptible to flare ups, meaning that the arthritis symptoms do not stay static and become worse from time to time.
The first step to managing arthritis is to get the pain under control. Patients may be prescribed pain medication in order to reduce joint pain and swelling, as well as receive information about caring for pain at home with conservative measures like ice or bracing. The TriState Pain Institute also offers joint injections as another option to manage pain. Joint injections deliver soothing medication directly into the joint to get direct pain relief. Joint injections can be administered on an outpatient basis and can be repeated a few times each year. If patients have been suffering from arthritis for a while, we may suggest seeing a specialist for joint replacement surgery. This procedure gives the longest lasting results because it removes the damaged joint and replaces it with a prosthetic joint.