The main difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis is the cause of the disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammatory joint symptoms throughout the body. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that is the result of increased wear and tear on joints. Osteoarthritis may produce inflammatory symptoms as well but primarily destroys joint cartilage over time.
Osteoarthritis affects an estimated 27 million Americans while only 1.3 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis. Both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are more prevalent in women than in men. Rheumatoid arthritis can develop in patients anytime between the ages of 30 and 60 years old. Osteoarthritis generally develops later in life. It is specifically common in women over the age of 50.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms have a rather rapid onset where the condition can worsen in a matter of weeks. Osteoarthritis symptoms slowly develop and gradually worsen over a long period of time.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms affect joints all the over the body including hands, fingers, elbows, knees, and hips. Osteoarthritis frequently affects the small finger joints and thumb, as well as the knees. Rheumatoid arthritis always affects multiple joints, whereas osteoarthritis may only affect one particular joint or area of the body.
At the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, symptoms like fatigue, fever, weight loss, and loss of appetite are indicative of the disease’s development. Osteoarthritis doesn’t produce these types of additional symptoms.
One common characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis is that it produces symmetrical symptoms, meaning both sides of the body are affected similarly. Osteoarthritis doesn’t necessarily produce the same symptoms. It’s based entirely on wear and tear levels in individual joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms also include prolonged morning stiffness lasting greater than 30 minutes. Osteoarthritis patients may feel morning stiffness, but it generally subsides within the first 30 minutes.
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