Rheumatoid arthritis vs osteoarthritis: Know the difference

Arthritis is a joint condition that can affect your elbow, knee, wrist, and more. There are two most common types of it, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Know the difference between these two conditions.
Types pf arthritis
Arthritis can be of different types. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Aayushi Gupta Updated: 17 Oct 2023, 18:32 pm IST
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Arthritis, a prevalent and debilitating condition, affects millions of individuals worldwide. It is a term used to describe a group of chronic disorders characterised by inflammation and stiffness in one or more joints. Arthritis can cause significant pain, limited mobility and reduced quality of life for those who live with it. There are several types of this joint condition, each with its own causes, symptoms and approach to treatment. Here we will explore the two most prevalent forms of arthritis: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Health Shots reached out to Dr Punit Pruthi, Director- of Rheumatology and Internal Medicine, Asian Hospital Faridabad, to understand how these two joint conditions rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are different from each other.

Difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA) are both types of arthritis, but they differ in their underlying causes, symptoms and treatment approaches. Here are the key differences between the two:

1. Causes

Rheumatoid arthritis: RA is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues, particularly the synovium (the lining of the joints). The exact cause of RA is unknown, but genetic and environmental factors are believed to play a role.

types of arthritis
Diffrent arthritis have diffrent causes. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Osteoarthritis: OA is primarily a degenerative joint disease that occurs due to the wear and tear of the joints over time. Factors such as ageing, joint injury, obesity, and joint overuse contribute to the development of OA.

2. Joint involvement

Rheumatoid arthritis: RA typically affects multiple joints symmetrically, meaning both sides of the body are affected. It commonly affects smaller joints such as those in the hands, wrists and feet, but larger joints can also be involved.

Osteoarthritis: OA usually affects weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees, and spine. It often affects a single joint or a few joints and tends to be asymmetric, meaning it may only occur on one side of the body.

3. Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis: RA is characterized by joint pain, swelling and stiffness, particularly in the morning or after periods of inactivity. It can also cause fatigue, general malaise, and systemic symptoms like fever and weight loss. RA can result in joint deformities and may affect other organs and systems in the body.

knee pain
Knee pain is common, but don’t take it lightly. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Osteoarthritis: OA is primarily associated with joint pain and stiffness that worsens with activity and improves with rest. Joint swelling is less common in OA compared to RA. Over time, OA can lead to the formation of bone spurs and joint deformities.

4. Progression

Rheumatoid arthritis: RA is a chronic, progressive disease that tends to worsen over time if left untreated. It can cause joint damage, cartilage loss, and bone erosion, leading to significant disability and functional impairment.

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Osteoarthritis: OA generally progresses slowly, and the symptoms may gradually worsen over many years. However, the rate of progression can vary between individuals. OA primarily affects the joints and does not typically involve systemic complications.

5. Treatment

Rheumatoid arthritis: RA is managed using a combination of medications, such as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and corticosteroids. Biologic therapies that target specific components of the immune system are also used in certain cases. Physical therapy and lifestyle modifications are important for managing symptoms and improving joint function.

arthritis treatment
Seek relief from arthritis to avoid worse symptoms of arthritis. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Osteoarthritis: Treatment for OA focuses on relieving pain, improving joint function, and minimizing further joint damage. This may involve lifestyle modifications (weight management, exercise), pain medications (acetaminophen, NSAIDs), physical therapy, assistive devices, and in severe cases, joint replacement surgery.


It’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management of arthritis, as they can provide personalized advice based on an individual’s specific condition.

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About the Author

Aayushi Gupta is a health writer with a special interest in trends related to diet, fitness, beauty and intimate health. With around 2 years of experience in the wellness industry, she is connected to leading experts and doctors to provide our readers with factually correct information. ...Read More

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