With more than one hundred different kinds of conditions that can be classified as arthritis, it’s unfortunate that some folks endure the pain of arthritis without ever being properly diagnosed. If you believe you may be arthritic, you could be experiencing any number of symptoms, so it’s best to see a doctor to be sure. At a minimum, it’s good to understand the two most common forms of arthritis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis – and the differences between them.
Osteoarthritis – The Wear and Tear Disease
Also called “The Wear and Tear” disease, osteoarthritis (OA for short) occurs when the surface of a joint wears away over time; more specifically the smooth cartilage that cushions the joint wears down due to overuse and stress. The result is a painful bone on bone scraping that can make even the most subtle movements painful. Osteoarthritis also is referred to as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease, which is an accurate description of the condition that ultimately destroys cartilage over time.
Rheumatoid Arthritis – An autoimmune disease
Unlike osteoarthritis, which occurs over time and with wear and tear, rheumatoid arthritis – RA – is an autoimmune disease. A healthy immune system fights and blocks the body’s unhealthy invaders; persons with rheumatoid arthritis are subject to an immune system that actually turns on itself, which can lead to a variety of painful outcomes. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the breakdown of the immune system causes the synovial membrane surrounding joints to be attacked. It may also attack multiple joints simultaneously, causing extreme pain and discomfort.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis are varied and extensive, including pain of course, but also stiffness in the joints, especially following long periods of stillness. Weakness and swelling occur in the affected joint, which may feel sore and tender. Loss of motion is also a symptom of osteoarthritis; however, the more a person with osteoarthritis moves, the less pain they eventually endure. Severe osteoarthritis will cause joints to become deformed; causing the fingers to look bent and crooked.
Though osteoarthritis is a degenerative, non-inflammatory disease, there are other contributing factors that include, heredity, obesity, and injury to a joint, and as mentioned above, simple wear and tear. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but often occurs in hands, hips, spine, and knees. Most sufferers complain of osteoarthritis affecting the small joints in the hand and fingers, perhaps especially at the thumb’s base.
Rheumatoid arthritis shares some symptoms with osteoarthritis, primarily pain and swelling in joints. However, there are other symptoms that are more common with rheumatoid arthritis, primarily because it is an autoimmune disease. A person with rheumatoid arthritis might experience a loss of appetite, fevers, and even anemia accompanied by fatigue.
One key difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis: while osteoarthritis tends to affect only certain joints that are overworked from years of strain and repetitive use, rheumatoid arthritis often attacks joints symmetrically, attacks the same kind of joint (e.g., hips or knees) but on the opposite side of the body.
Sadly, persons with rheumatoid arthritis can also contract osteoarthritis, and in fact are more likely to contract the condition.
When it comes to arthritis or any medical condition, don’t self-diagnose and leave treatment to chance. Speak to a health professional regarding your aches and pains that might be related to rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or any of the other forms of arthritis. Don’t live with pain, call Movement Orthopedics to learn how we can assist you with taking back control of your pain. Reach us at 586-436-3785.