Difference between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis is a disease affecting joints − areas where bones meet and move. Of the various types of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common one. Osteoarthritis is also commonly referred to as degenerative arthritis or wear and tear arthritis. Generally, it occurs in hands, hips and knees.

What is Osteoarthritis?

In osteoarthritis, the cartilage in joint breaks down and the bone under the joint begins to change. Such changes develop gradually and worsen over time. This disease can cause immense pain, stiffness, along with swelling. In extreme cases, it also leads to reduced function and disability and deprives people of doing any daily task or work.

This disease is mainly caused by the breakdown of the cartilage in joints. Other reasons may include some other diseases, infection, injury or deformity. This disease develops more as people age. More than 80% of people who are 55 years or older suffer from osteoarthritis. Women, especially after age of 50, are more prone to this disease than men. Researchers have found that losing just a few pounds can help reduce osteoarthritis pain.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

It is an autoimmune disease, that is, RA directly attacks our immune system. Unlike RA, it affects more than just joints. In some cases, it affects a number of body systems, such as skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels. it mainly attacks multiple joints simultaneously. In RA, the lining of the joints get inflamed, damaging joint tissue. This causes long lasting or chronic pain, imbalance, and deformity.

It is the result of immune system when the body’s immune system attacks its own body cells. There isn’t any specific reason of RA, but there are several factors leading to it such as age, gender, genetics, smoking, and obesity. Women are 2-3 times more susceptible to RA as compared to men. Researchers have found that women who breastfeed their infants are less prone to this disease.

Similarities between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Both, RA and OA, are different types of arthritis. Both the diseases cause pain and stiffness in the joints. Both the diseases can get worse with time if appropriate treatment is not ensured. Both are chronic, long-term diseases affecting joints and bones. Both the conditions can cause some of the same symptoms, such as joint pain, stiffness in joints, swelling, limited mobility in affected areas, etc.

Differences between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

The following table highlights the major differences between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis


Rheumatoid Arthritis

It is a degenerative disease.

It is an autoimmune disease.

People over 40 are most affected by it.

It is found more among individuals around the age of 20.

It is caused by continuing pressure on large joints.

Its aetiology is not clear

OA does not cause extra-articular manifestations.

It results in extra-articular manifestations like fever and fatigue.

There is no need of immune suppressants in OA.

RA needs to be treated specifically with immune-suppressants.

Inflammation is a secondary symptom of OA.

RA causes immense and painful swelling in affected areas.

Its symptoms develop slowly.

Its symptoms develop and get worse quickly.

Osteoarthritis is more common as compared to rheumatoid arthritis. RA also causes much more inflammation than OA. RA affects multiple joints and develops symmetrically on each side of the body. OA usually affects a few joints and mostly develops on one side of the body. In case of OA, the stiffness usually eases in 30 minutes, but with RA it lasts much longer.

OA is more common in hip, knee, lower back, neck feet and finger. Although RA can appear in any joint in the body, it is more common in hands, wrist and feet. The treatment of osteoarthritis is alleviating and focuses more on present symptoms. On the other hand, the treatment of RA is more disease modifying and is enduringly beneficial, and not just temporary symptom relief.

In case of OA, the morning stiffness last more than an hour. But in case of RA, the morning stiffness lasts less than an hour but reappears at the end of the day or periods of activity.


Even though osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are different types of arthritis, they both are significantly different from each other in terms of symptoms, areas affected, inflammation, duration, severity. Both are chronic diseases, meaning they do not just go away on their own. There is no specific cure for them, but proper treatment can help manage symptoms and slow down the deterioration of the condition.

Treatment may include using medication like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to minimize inflammation, palliate pain and stiffness and improve movement. Disease- modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can also be used to treat RA, suppress immune system and reduce damage cause to tissues in the joints. Some other methods involve physical therapy, healthy diet, proper exercise plan, maintaining healthy weight, quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke.

If the above-mentioned treatment methods do not make any significant effect, doctors may recommend surgery to replace the affected joint.

Updated on: 27-Jan-2023


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