Did you know that apart from rheumatoid arthritis, there are other equally debilitating types of arthritis? One of the most recognizable is osteoarthritis, which affects roughly 27 million people in the U.S., making it the most common chronic joint condition in the country (RA only affects 1.5 million people).
RA and osteoarthritis are both known to bring excruciating pain, but there are characteristics that set them apart from each other. A major difference lies in how these diseases affect your body.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the entire body: joints, systems, and vital organs such as the heart. Meanwhile, osteoarthritis is not an autoimmune disease, and it only strikes the joints in the knees, hips, lower back and neck, fingers, and toes (not body-wide).
Body Parts Affected by These Types of Arthritis
How these two diseases manifest in your body is also different. In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system treats the synovium, the tissue lining in the joints as a threat, and when this lining is attacked, it leads to inflammation and pain.
On the other hand, osteoarthritis begins when the cartilage, a firm, rubbery material that serves as a cushion and provides a smooth surface for the joints, breaks down. As the disease worsens, growths called spurs can develop, resulting in the breakdown of bones.
Inflammatory processes also happen, allowing enzymes and cytokines (proteins) to form, which spell additional trouble to the cartilage. The final blow comes as a result of wear-and-tear from cartilage damage.
This causes the bones to rub against each other, exposing small nerves and causing pain, swelling, and movement problems.
This is why you should consult your physician once you experience these symptoms:
Stiffness in a joint after getting out of bed or long periods of sitting
Swelling or tenderness in one or more joints
A crunching feeling or the sound of bone rubbing on bone
These Types of Arthritis Target Different Age Groups
As for when the diseases will develop is a different story. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur in women between 30 to 60 years of age, and in men 34 to 60 years of age. Meanwhile, osteoarthritis is common in people aged 65 and above. (Do take note though, that anyone can be affected by RA, whether young or old.)
The risk factors or causes of these diseases are also different. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur as a result of hormonal, environmental, lifestyle, and/or genetic factors. However, the NIAMS says that osteoarthritis can result from the following:
Joints that aren't properly formed
Genetic defects in joint cartilage
Stress on joints from certain jobs and/or sports