Causing joint damage and pain, arthritis affects more than 46 million Americans across the country.  In comparing the two major types of arthritis ─ osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis ─ people note a few similarities and some key differences.

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Of all the types of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common, affecting roughly 27 million Americans.  Usually, it develops as a result of wear and tear on the joints caused by excess weight, repetitive stress, or aging. In fact, 80 percent of people afflicted are over the age of 55. Not surprisingly, osteoarthritis most commonly develops in weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips, feet, and spine, and it progresses gradually over months or years.

Osteoarthritis develops in joint cartilage, the rubbery material that covers the ends of bones in joints, causing it to break down over time.  With breakdown in cartilage, joints lose their cushioning resulting in pain, stiffness, and occasional grating sounds with movement. Osteoarthritis makes normal activity like holding objects, sitting, and walking difficult.  Many sufferers experience warm joints, morning stiffness, impaired joint motion, and occasional swelling.

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Affecting more than two million Americans, rheumatoid arthritis can develop any time in life, but roughly 75 percent of those affected are women.  In fact, up to 3 percent of women are expected to develop the disease in their lifetime.  Differing from its degenerative cousin, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, a condition in which the immune system attacks specific areas of the body. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system usually targets the joints, but it can also affect the eyes, lungs, skin, heart, and other organs.

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Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can begin suddenly or develop gradually.  Those afflicted may experience pain, stiffness, and swelling in the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, ankles, feet, jaw, or neck.  Occurrence in several joints is common, and the disease often tends to attack joints in a symmetrical pattern, meaning it develops in the same joints on both sides of the body.  With rheumatoid arthritis, joint swelling is persistent, and over time it can lead to severe damage and deformities like lumps on the skin called rheumatoid nodules.  Because of chronic pain, inflammation, and stiffness, rheumatoid arthritis interferes with normal daily activity and can lead to debilitating fatigue, reduced appetite, and weight loss.

Addressing Concerns about Symptoms 

People who have concerns about either of these types of arthritis should consult with a health care professional.  While the development and symptoms of the diseases differ, the treatment goal for both conditions is the same: to ease pain, reduce inflammation, and minimize joint damage.