Osteoarthritis versus Rheumatoid Arthritis: defining both types

Osteoarthritis arthritis (OA) happens when excess strain is put on the joints over long periods of time. If left untreated, it could cause joints to fuse together (ankylosis).

In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the immune system attacks the synovium, which is a connective tissue area inside the joint. The synovium inside the joints is mainly being affected which causes it to swell and become warm.


The following are some main points in OA:

1. What joints are affected

The main joints affected are weight-bearing such as hands, knees, hips, and spine because there’s a lot of stress on them.

This condition is not symmetrical, which means it does not affect both joints equally (it could be in one knee and not the other).

2. How OA develops

Happens over time as the patient gets older. When there is wear and tear on the body from sports, physical work, or excessive weight, there’s a higher chance this disease will develop.

3. What it feels like to have OA

Joints will feel hard and bony in the morning for less than 30 minutes. The patient will feel pain and tenderness in the joints, especially when moving a certain way, such as when opening a jar with arthritic fingers.

4. How to know the difference

Use the acrostic “OSTEO” to know the difference of OA:

  • O: Outgrowths. Hard and bony nodule areas in the knuckles. Joints may look large, firm, and stiff for the patient.
  • S: Sunrise stiffness. Morning stiffness that is less than 30 minutes.
  • T: Tenderness on joints site. Bone spurs make it hurt more.
  • E: Experience “crepitus.” Grinding or clicking noise because the bones are rubbing on each other.
  • O: Only the joints are affected. No other parts of the body are affected because the immune system is not attacking other parts of the body.

rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

The following are some main points in RA:

1. What joints are affected

It’s most commonly found in the fingers and wrists. RA affects other parts of the body besides the joints like the eyes, heart, and lungs. Most patients have anemia with this as well. They may have a low-grade fever too. This condition is symmetrical, which means both joints are affected (it’s felt in both knees).

2. How RA develops

The main cause is unknown except that the immune system attacks the synovium in the joints. It’s more prevalent in women than men. Unlike, OA, RA can be diagnosed at any age between 20 to 60.

3. What it feels like to have RA

Patients will have morning stiffness longer than 30 minutes. Joints may look red and feel soft, warm, and swollen to the touch on the outside of the skin. Patients may have a fever and other parts of the body like the eyes, heart, and lungs may be affected.

4. How to know the difference

Use the “Seven S’s” to know the difference of RA:

  1. Sunrise stiffness. Stiffness will last longer than 30 minutes.
  2. Soft, tender, warm joints.
  3. Swelling in joint.
  4. Symmetrical. Both sides of the body are affected.
  5. Synovium inflammation. Joints are inflamed.
  6. Systemic.
  7. Stages: synovitis, pannus, and annlyosis. Possible bone fusion.

Arthritis Consultants of East Tennessee specializes in rheumatologic care, which is the practice of assessing joints, muscles, and bones for pain, swelling, stiffness, and deformity. Contact us or call 865-503-2001 today to find out how we can help you get your life back on track.

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