Difference Between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis


Main Difference

The main difference between osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis is that in osteoarthritis smooth cartilage joint surface breaks down whereas in Rheumatoid arthritis synovial membrane of joint breaks down.

Osteoarthritis vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis

In osteoarthritis, the cartilage of the bones wears away, and bones rub against other bones ultimately leads to joint damage and cause pain whereas Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation of joints, swelling, and pain around the joints and other body organs. It usually attacks the hands and feet first and then any other bone. Osteoarthritis is the common chronic disease of the joints, which affect almost 27 million Americans, whereas Rheumatoid arthritis is the third common disease of arthritis, which affects almost 1.3 million Americans. In osteoarthritis, risk factors are older age, joint injuries, bone deformities, gender, genetic factors, and the activities in which people give repetitive stress on the particular joint while in Rheumatoid arthritis; risk factors are gender, environmental factors, obesity, and smoking.


Comparison Chart

OsteoarthritisRheumatoid Arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the disease of smooth cartilage surface in which physical wear and tear occur.An autoimmune disease which affects the synovial membrane of the joint.
Age of Onset
At any ageUsually in older age
Speed of Onset
It progresses rapidly, usually within weeks and months.The slow rate of progression often takes years.
Causing Factors
Genetic, Over Weight, Injury, and overuseGenetic and environmental (smoking etc.) factors
Pain in joints, stiffness, limited mobility, swelling, etc.Pain in joints, stiffness, limited mobility, severe swelling, etc.
Systemic Symptoms
No systemic symptomsFatigue, Fever, and malaise
Duration of Morning Symptoms
Morning stiffness lasts less than 30 minutesMorning stiffness lasts less than 45 minues
Types of Joints Affected
Osteoarthritis affects small and large bones of the body, such as hands, wrists, and elbows.In Rheumatoid arthritis, symptoms usually begin at one side and progress to the other hand. Symptoms begin slowly and restricted to one set of joints
Physical examination, Medical history and laboratory tests (MRI, X Rays, ultrasound scans)Physical examination, Medical tests and laboratory tests (MRI, X rays, ultrasound scans)
NSAIDs, SteroidsDMARD, NSAIDs, Biologic medications, steroids

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the common disease of joints which affects the protective cartilage of the bones. Although it can damage any joint of the body commonly, it affects hands, knees, spine, and hip. It develops slowly but becomes worsen with time. Its underlying process cannot be reversed, but its symptoms can be easily managed. An active and healthy lifestyle, ideal body weight, and other treatments can slow the progression of osteoarthritis. The cartilage, which is a firm, rubbery material, covers the end of each bone in the normal joint. It performs as a cushion between bones and provides a smooth, gliding surface for joint motion. In osteoarthritis, cartilage breaks down and causes a problem in moving joints of the bones. This condition becomes worse with time, and bone breaks down, and growth occurs, which is called spurs. An inflammatory process also starts in such cartilage in which cytokines and enzymes develop, which causes more damage to the joint. In the final stage, the cartilage wears away, and bones start rubbing with each other and lead to joint destruction. Osteoarthritis is treated with medications such as acetaminophen, NSAIDs, and other pain-relieving medicines. Some surgical procedures are also recommended. For example, in realigning bones, the surgeon cuts the bone either above or below the knee and then adds or removes a wedge of bone. This procedure shifts body weight away from the worn out part of the knee. Similarly, in joint replacement therapy, the surgeon removes damaged joint surfaces and replaces them with plastic and metal parts.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which affects not only joint but also other body systems, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. It starts when the immune system, which usually protects the body from infections caused by virus and bacteria, of the body takes control of the body tissues. In this disease, linings of the joints, synovial membrane, are affected and cause a painful inflammation that leads to bone erosion (loss of bone) and joint deformity after a long time. The synovial membrane makes a fluid-like material which lubricates joints and helps in movement. Rheumatoid arthritis also causes some complications, e.g., osteoporosis, rheumatoid nodules, dry eyes and mouth, infections, abnormal body composition, carpal tunnel syndrome, heart disease, lung disease, and lymphoma. A severe condition of Rheumatoid arthritis cans results in physical disability. For the treatment of Rheumatoid arthritis, NSAIDs, steroids, and disease-modifying antirheumatic (DMARDs) drugs are used. Biologic agents (adalimumab, abatacept, sarilumab, etc.) are used, which targets the immune system of the body to help reduce the inflammation. In surgical procedures, synovectomy, tendon repair, joint fusion, and total joint replacement are involved. Lifestyle modifications and home remedies can also benefit the patients of Rheumatoid arthritis. Light exercise can help to strengthen the muscles around the joint. Similarly, stress can be reduced by applying heat or cold.

Key Differences

  1. Osteoarthritis is the physical wear and tear of joint cartilage while Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease.
  2. Osteoarthritis can begin at any age whereas Rheumatoid arthritis begins in older age.
  3. Osteoarthritis is more common than Rheumatoid arthritis on the other side. Rheumatoid arthritis is a more complex disease as compared to osteoarthritis.
  4. Osteoarthritis has no systemic symptoms, whereas rheumatoid arthritis has some systemic symptoms.
  5. Causing factors of osteoarthritis are mostly of sports injuries, whereas causing factors of Rheumatoid arthritis are genetic and environmental factors.
  6. Medications used in osteoarthritis are NSAIDs and steroids, whereas medications of Rheumatoid arthritis are DMARD, NSAIDs, Biologic medications and steroids.
  7. Morning stiffness in osteoarthritis lasts less than 30 minutes on the other hand morning stiffness in Rheumatoid arthritis lasts less than 45 minutes.
Janet White

Janet White is a writer and blogger for Difference Wiki since 2015. She has a master's degree in science and medical journalism from Boston University. Apart from work, she enjoys exercising, reading, and spending time with her friends and family. Connect with her on Twitter @Janet__White