When it comes to arthritis there are various forms, and they are often confused. Most people with arthritis have osteoarthritis, which is often common with age. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a serious autoimmune disease that can come about quickly at any age. While both result in joint pain, there are many distinct differences between the two diseases. Approximately 50 million people in the United States suffer from arthritis. 27 million of those people have osteoarthritis while only 1.3 million suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis often affects people later on in life due to years of wear and tear. While the average age of RA onset is between 30-50 years of age, it can affect anyone at any age.
The source of pain for osteoarthritis differs from RA. Osteoarthritis results from the cartilage in the joints wearing away with time. This leaves bone rubbing on bone. RA is an autoimmune disease in which the immune cells think they see an invader and target the joint’s lining which is known as the synovium. Cell-signaling molecules such as tumor necrosis factor and interleukins pour into the bloodstream causing fever and swelling. The inflammation caused by RA can lead to heart, lung and eye damage.
Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis are treated differently as well. Osteoarthritis is treated with the use of steroids injected into the joints as well as oral NSAID drugs such a ibuprofen and naproxen to alleviate pain. While people with RA need these treatments they often also need stronger oral steroids like prednisone. People suffering from RA often need drugs, some the same ones used in chemotherapy treatment, to stop joint destruction.
While both disease affect joint, how and which specifics ones is very different. Osteoarthritis affects larger weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees. RA usually attacks smaller joints (wrists, toes fingers) first, leaving them painfully red, swollen and warm, usually in matching sets on both sides of the body. RA can often spread and affect as many as 30 different joints.
The onset and progression of osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis also differ. RA, being an autoimmune disease, can flare up quickly and subside in an often hard-to-predict pattern. Osteoarthritis tends to develop slowly over many years as cartilage continues to wear down. It’s important to know the differences between the two to make sure you or a loved one is receiving the proper diagnosis and treatment!