What’s the Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

As we age, we all begin to feel aches and pains in different areas of our bodies. These aches and pains can sometimes be hard to diagnose, but a common cause is arthritis.  Although it is critical to get an accurate diagnosis from a doctor before taking medication for any condition, it can help to understand more about arthritis and the two most common types: rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA).

At its most basic, the meaning of the word arthritis simply means damage to the joints. Many people are surprised to find out that there are actually over one hundred different forms that this disease can take and over 37 million people annually are affected regularly by it.

Some forms of arthritis are fairly minor while others can have devastating effects on a person’s quality of life. In the past, for example, a person who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis could expect to be disabled depending on which joints were affected and how severe the disease is. Osteoarthritis can also have a similarly devastating effect on the body although for completely different reasons.

Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Our joints are designed to make movement as easy and comfortable as possible. Joints are not simply two bare bones that hinge or rotate near each other. They are cushioned by cartilage and fluid known as synovial fluid. Whether a person has RA or OA will determine how the joints are affected and what form the damage will take.

Osteoarthritis is often considered to be “wear and tear” arthritis. Over time, repeated motions and injury to joints can cause the cartilage to be destroyed. This can destroy the cushioning in the joints and make it exceptionally painful for the joint to be moved or rotated. Often, OA can affect joints such as the knees, ankles and wrists. It is often a disease that is more common in older people although if a person has suffered a joint injury the disease may show up there at a much earlier age.

Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is actually a disease of the immune system. If a person is suffering from RA, the body attacks the joints and can cause pain and suffering. The joints swell up and will, in time become deformed. In severe cases, the joints become permanently disfigured and a person may become completely disabled.

Diagnosis – Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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There are a few different ways that a doctor can diagnose whether a person has RA or OA. The pattern of the pain and discomfort that is being experienced can be a valuable key. If you are stiff and sore when you get up in the morning but it improves after a shower or after moving around a bit, it may be the beginnings of RA. As well, the number of joints and whether the pain is the same on both sides of the body can be ways to diagnose what form of arthritis a person has.

Tests for Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are other tests that can tell what kind of arthritis is present. A blood test can check for the Rheumatoid factor that is present in most cases of RA. Other blood work can tell whether there is the kind of system-wide inflammation that is present in RA even if the Rheumatoid factor is missing. Diagnostic imaging such as x-rays can also help to make a diagnosis.

[box type=”blue”]Arthritis affects all age groups, young and old .  Wherever your pain or discomfort is coming from, it is always best to consult a doctor or physical therapist first.  For more information about arthritis, you can visit Dr. Morrow’s article on Natural Arthritis Treatments.[/box]

Cole Watts writes on behalf of US Medical Supplies. US Medical Supplies one of the largest online suppliers of medical equipment for the home including lift chairs,  wheelchair lifts, and stair lifts.

Cole Watts

Cole Watts writes on behalf of US Medical Supplies, an online retailer of medical equipment and mobility aides.

9 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

  • September 28, 2011 at 7:58 am

    I know that having arthritis in my life has to be an aggravating to my comfort of day to day living.I have researched many avenues to find treatments for RA. Your posting here assures me that that the battle to eliminate arthritis is always here and there are many solutions. Thank you.

  • September 8, 2011 at 4:37 am

    i was so happy to see your website about cold weather affecting joint pain. i first started having joint pain in my late 20’s in my knees and my dr said the cold had nothing to do with the pain. i am now 36 and have arthritis in nearly every joint severe arthritis in my knees and right shoulder. needless to say i dropped the dr back then because i knew for sure in my knees lol that cold weather hurt. he even said that it was a proven fact cold weather did not affect arthritis. so thank you once again.

  • September 11, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    My Mother has osteoarthritis and the specialist wanted to put her on medication. When I explained the side-effects of the meds she would be taking she opted to do excercises that 30 plus years on she still does! A doctor’s dream really. She is a very active 88year old who walks every day and is not in a wheelchair as predicted by the specialist all those years ago.
    She has always lived a healthy active lifestyle and it shows in her health & well-being today.
    Patricia Perth Australia

    • September 13, 2010 at 11:29 am


      When I did research on the article, I found that exercise and weight control were two of the most common preventions for arthritis.
      Though, this does not cure all, a simple exercise regiment can go a long way in today’s society.


      • September 13, 2010 at 11:49 am

        Hey Cole,

        In the past I formulated dietary supplements for a company in the U.S. One of the main products was for promoting joint health for people with osteoarthritis. Exercise and weight loss are important as you note.

        Some good supplements for osteoarthritis include glucosamine sulfate (not hydrochloride), SAMe or s-adenosyl methionine, Devil’s Claw extract or harpagophytum procumbens, ASU or avocado and soy bean unsaponifiables, and Pycnogenol or marine pine bark extract.

  • September 11, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Cole, thanks again for your great article contributions! Arthritis is a very common and often debilitating medical condition.

    For athletes, intraarticular fractures or bone fractures within a joint, can dramatically increase their risk of developing arthritis at an earlier age.


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