The Differences Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

The Differences Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

Arthritis is a widespread problem, affecting an estimated 57% of Americans between 18-64 years of age alone. But that doesn’t mean they have the same disease, so they won’t necessarily respond to the same treatments.

Dr. Edward R. Dupay, Jr., specializes in diagnosing and treating joint conditions like arthritis at Orthopedic Associates of Southwest Florida. In this blog, Dr. Dupay explains the differences in the two most common forms of arthritis that he sees at his practice in Fort Myers, Florida, and how they require different forms of treatment.

Rheumatoid arthritis versus osteoarthritis

Generally speaking, the word “arthritis” describes tenderness and swelling in one or more joints that causes pain, stiffness, and restricted mobility. However, this can occur for various reasons and damage joints in very different ways.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) develops when your immune system starts misfiring and attacking your joint’s tough synovial membrane. In response, the synovial membrane becomes swollen and inflamed, eventually destroying bone and cartilage within the affected joint.

In most cases, rheumatoid arthritis targets multiple joints at the same time, and they’re often symmetrical. For example, you usually have symptoms in both hips or knees instead of only one. It’s also common to have additional symptoms, like fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite.


Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, this form occurs because of physical wear-and-tear on a joint that causes damage to the cartilage cushioning bones where they come together. As this cartilage deteriorates, the bones begin grinding against each other, leading to pain, stiffness, and additional joint damage.

You can develop osteoarthritis because of an injury, but it also becomes increasingly common with age.

Finding effective treatment

Because these forms of arthritis vary, it’s essential to follow the right course of treatment to ease your symptoms and prevent additional joint damage. However, both forms do share some of the same treatment methods. 

In many cases, Dr. Dupay often treats both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis with options, like: 

Each of these therapies can help reduce inflammation and pain, improve mobility, and slow disease progression. 

However, because rheumatoid arthritis involves the immune system, your treatment should also include antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biologic response agents. These types of medications help slow the progression of RA by modifying how your immune system functions.

Lifestyle changes, including weight loss, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and quitting smoking, are also essential for managing both forms of arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis. 

No matter which form of arthritis you have, Dr. Dupay recommends seeking treatment as soon as symptoms arise. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are chronic diseases without a cure. So, the earlier you receive a diagnosis, the faster you can get the treatment you need to avoid serious and often irreversible joint damage.

Do you have joint pain, stiffness, or swelling? Contact Orthopedic Associates of Southwest Florida to schedule an assessment by calling 239-768-2272 today. 

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