Rheumatoid arthritis and
osteoarthritis are different types of arthritis.
They share some similar characteristics, but each has different symptoms
and requires different treatment. So an accurate diagnosis is
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about one-tenth as many people as osteoarthritis.
The main difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is the
cause behind the
joint symptoms. Osteoarthritis is caused by mechanical
wear and tear on joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an
autoimmune disease in which the body's own
immune system attacks the body's
Characteristics of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis
Age at which the condition starts
It may begin any time in
It usually begins later in
Speed of onset
Relatively rapid, over weeks
Slow, over years
Joints are painful, swollen,
Joints ache and may be tender
but have little or no swelling.
Pattern of joints that are affected
It often affects small and
large joints on both sides of the body (symmetrical), such as both hands, both
wrists or elbows, or the balls of both feet.
Symptoms often begin on one
side of the body and may spread to the other side. Symptoms begin gradually and
are often limited to one set of joints, usually the finger joints closest to
the fingernails or the thumbs, large weight-bearing joints (hips, knees), or
Duration of morning stiffness
Morning stiffness usually lasts longer than
Morning stiffness usually lasts less than 1 hour.
Stiffness returns at the end of the day or after
periods of activity.
Presence of symptoms
affecting the whole body (systemic)
Frequent fatigue and a general
feeling of being ill are present.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine Donald Sproule, MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerNancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology