Arthritis written in wooden blocks

Understanding the Difference Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis

The two most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, but each of these conditions has its own unique causes and symptoms.1 Yet these two conditions are sometimes confused with each other, especially in the early stages of development. Since both forms of arthritis involve joint pain, some initial treatment options are similar, but targeted prevention and treatment strategies may vary from person to person.

This article will answer the question of what is the difference between rheumatoid and osteoarthritis to help individuals with joint pain address and treat their specific condition. In addition to an RA vs. OA comparison, it will also cover the most accurate ways to tell the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Types of Arthritis and Their Symptoms

In general, arthritis is a joint condition that commonly results in pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion.2 Swelling in the joints and fatigue are also characteristic of multiple types of arthritis and symptoms of these various types.

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All About Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by joint pain, stiffness in the morning, reduced range of motion, fatigue, and loss of energy.3 These symptoms get worse first thing after waking up and after long periods of rest or activity. It commonly occurs in people between the ages of 30 and 50, but RA can flare up in children and young adults as well.4 RA affects the hands and ankles more than other parts of the body.

All About Osteoarthritis

By comparison, osteoarthritis involves wear and tear of the joints, either over time with age or due to an injury.5 Joint pain, stiffness, and reduced motion of the joints are all common symptoms in osteoarthritis patients. The knees, hips, and back are very commonly affected by OA, but fingers and toes can become stiff and painful with OA as well. The onset of osteoarthritis occurs typically later in life than rheumatoid arthritis, with middle-aged and elderly adults frequently affected.

Arthritis FAQs: What Is the Difference Between Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis? Can Osteoarthritis Turn Into Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Based on these descriptions, it is clear to see that there are many differences between rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. For example, RA is an autoimmune condition, while OA is a degenerative disease. The two types of arthritis affect different demographics, are triggered by different things and involve different joints in the body.

Some people ask their doctors, “Can osteoarthritis turn into rheumatoid arthritis?” But this is not typically possible or a major cause for concern. In fact, it is very rare for an individual to have both RA and OA at the same time.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for either RA or OA, so it is up to patients and their doctors to make the symptoms more manageable.6,7 Treatment options for both conditions include corticosteroid and anti-inflammatory medications, topical relief creams like JointFlex, weight management, and physical therapy. But since rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, additional medications may be recommended to prevent the immune system from further attacking the body.

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1. Brandt, K. D. (2010 October 31). Osteoarthritis diagnosis: Avoiding the pitfalls. Rheumatology Network. Retrieved October 24, 2018 from
2. Arthritis. MedlinePlus. Retrieved October 24, 2018 from
3. Kontzias, A. (2017 July). Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved October 24, 2018 from,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/joint-disorders/rheumatoid-arthritis-ra.
4. Mehta, J. & Pessler, F. (2018 April). Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved October 23, 2018 from
5. Kontzias, A. (2017 July). Osteoarthritis (OA). The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved October 24, 2018 from,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/joint-disorders/osteoarthritis-oa.
6. Osteoarthritis (OA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 24, 2018 from
7. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 24, 2018 from