Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that is more complex than you probably believe it to be, with symptoms and even complications that can be different for every patient. More often than not, symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are confused with those of osteoarthritis. This often happens when the first arthritic symptoms manifest.

Even though both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis cause joint pain, they have different diagnoses. And interestingly enough, although they are both chronic and non-curable, they also have different causes, symptoms, and prognoses. Naturally, they also get different treatments.

The main difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is their nature. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition caused by increased wear and tear on joints. It primarily destroys joint cartilage over time but may also cause inflammatory symptoms.  Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disorder that produces inflammatory joint symptoms all throughout a person’s body. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are more common in women. The latter is more prevalent in patients between the ages of 30 and 60 while osteoarthritis often develops later in life.


Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis have different causes and risk factors which make them primarily different.

What causes osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

Like we have mentioned, continued wear and tear on specific joints cause osteoarthritis. It’s a chronic condition that can worsen as a person ages. Most of the time, doing certain jobs or playing sports that involve repetitive motions can eventually lead to osteoarthritis. Activities that add more pressure on joints can wear down the cartilage. Also, patients with previous injuries or injuries that haven’t completely healed are also at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis. Genes may also be a risk factor.

At this time, the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still unknown. What doctors know is that it is triggered by an autoimmune disorder whereby healthy joint tissues are attacked by harmful antibodies. Genetics are thought to be the primary risk factor that triggers rheumatoid arthritis, together with environmental, hormonal, and lifestyle factors like obesity and smoking.


While osteoarthritis symptoms develop gradually and slowly get worse over a long period of time, the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis have a rapid onset and the condition can worsen significantly in just a matter of weeks.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis affect joints all over the body – the fingers, hands, elbows, hips, and knees. On the other hand, osteoarthritis affects the small finger joints, thumb, and knees. Rheumatoid arthritis affects multiple joints while osteoarthritis may only affect one joint in a particular area of the body.

With rheumatoid arthritis, the patient might experience other symptoms like loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, and weight loss at the onset of the problem. Osteoarthritis doesn’t come with additional symptoms.

Rheumatoid arthritis also produces symmetrical symptoms. This means both sides of the body are affected the same way. Osteoarthritis does not necessarily have the same symptoms. It’s mainly based on the level of wear and tear in each joint.


Neither rheumatoid arthritis nor osteoarthritis have any known cure. When given treatment, the objective is to manage symptoms, reduce pain, and prevent further joint damage. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed by doctors to reduce pain and swelling.

Because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, doctors may prescribe specific drugs to prevent immune system attacks and further damage. Of course, physical and occupational therapy are also known to improve mobility and let patients adjust. Additionally, regular exercise, as well as weight maintenance and a healthy lifestyle are all considered important in managing both arthritis types.