Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis: Do You Know the Difference?

March 28, 2014 in LifeCare Health Services

Arthritis is a common ailment and is the most prevalent cause of disability among people in this country. It affects one in five adults in the United States, or an estimated 50 million people, but do you know the differences between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis? People often research self-management strategies that are not relevant to the type of arthritis they have. Knowing the difference and which type you have can help with control and management. Here are some details to help distinguish the two types.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis and is also known as degenerative joint disease. It is characterized by degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint as well as bony overgrowth. The breakdown of these tissues eventually leads to pain and joint stiffness. The joints most commonly affected are the knees, hips, and those in the hands and spine. Osteoarthritis affects 13.9% of adults age 25 and older and the number jumps to 33.6% (12.4 million) of those 65+. There is currently no cure for OA but treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and improving function. These treatments can include a combination of patient education, physical therapy, weight control, and use of medications.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic inflammatory disease which manifests itself in multiple joints of the body. The inflammatory process primarily affects the lining of the joints (synovial membrane), but can also affect other organs. The inflamed synovium leads to erosions of the cartilage and bone and sometimes joint deformity. Pain, swelling, and redness are common joint manifestations. RA can begin at any age and is associated with fatigue and prolonged stiffness after rest. In 2005, an estimated 1.5 million US adults had RA. There is no cure for RA, but new effective drugs are increasingly available to treat the disease and prevent deformed joints. In addition to medications and surgery, good self-management, including exercise, are known to reduce pain and disability.

The focus of treatment for both of these types of arthritis is to control pain, minimize joint damage, and improve or maintain function and quality of life. According to the American College of Rheumatology, the treatment of arthritis might involve the following:
. Medication
. Nonpharmacologic therapies such as physical or occupational therapy, splints or joint assistive aids, patient education and support, and weight loss
. Surgery

In conjunction with medical treatment, self-management of arthritis symptoms is very important as well.

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