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Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis: What’s the Difference?

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Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis: What’s the Difference?

Both illnesses affect your joints, but the similiarities end there

What’s in a name? Plenty. We often tend to lump osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis into the same category because they both include the term “arthritis” in their names, but make no bones about it, the two couldn’t be more different. Although both affect the joints, they do so very differently. According to the Mayo Clinic, in osteoarthritis (OA), which usually occurs as a result of age, cartilage between joints has worn away over time and bones rub together causing pain and stiffness. In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease, the body attacks the tissues in the joints, which in turn leads to inflammation, pain and stiffness.

With RA, inflammation often causes fluid to form within the joints and because of that, there are additional symptoms that can surface along with the typical stiffness, pain and swelling of osteoarthritis, said Eric Ruderman, M.D., Chicago rheumatologist, during an ABC News interview. These symptoms can range from fatigue to anemia and a host of others, which tend not to occur in osteoarthritis.

It’s also important to note that in a study from the National Institutes of Health’s Resource Center for Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases, people with OA are less likely to develop osteoporosis, a bone disease that makes bones fragile and easy to fracture. On the other hand, people with RA may be more likely to develop the disease. This is especially true because some medications used to treat RA can contribute to osteoporosis. Additionally, on their site, there is also a helpful checklist to help differentiate between osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Overall, there are more osteoarthritis sufferers in the United States—approximately 21 million—compared to rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, which total about 1.3 million. If you or a loved one has osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis or, worst case scenario, both (yes, it is possible), the appropriate medications as prescribed by your doctor, weight management and education, are crucial to helping relieve your symptoms and keep your pain to a minimum. In extreme cases, physical therapy is also an option for OA sufferers, while surgical intervention is typically reserved for those living with severe RA.

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Miranda Southwel