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Rheumatoid arthritis vs. osteoarthritis: What’s the difference?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA) are two conditions that cause pain and stiffness in the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis both cause joint pain and stiffness. They are both forms of arthritis but have different causes and treatments.

There are over 100 types of arthritis and related diseases. Two of the most common types are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA). OA is more common than RA.

Both OA and RA involve inflammation in the joints, but the inflammation in RA is much greater. Until recently, healthcare professionals believed that inflammation was not present in OA.

OA and RA share some symptoms. RA can affect multiple joints in a subtype called polyarticular arthritis, and it tends to affect the body symmetrically. OA usually affects a few joints and typically occurs on only one side of the body.

In this article, we take a look at the similarities and differences between RA and OA, including their symptoms, causes, and treatments.


Joints contain protective tissues that prevent the bones from scraping against one another. For example, cartilage overlies the bones to allow smooth movement in the joint. Arthritis damages this protective tissue.

The causes of joint damage are different in RA and OA:

Rheumatoid arthritis

RA is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the joints.

This immune response involves both genetic and environmental factors, including cigarette smoking.


In OA, the protective cartilage gradually wears down and the bones begin to scrape against one another. This wear and tear can result from repetitive movements, such as in sports, that place pressure on the joints.

Read on: Rheumatoid arthritis vs. osteoarthritis: What's the difference?

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