In a truly comprehensive medical encyclopedia, you’d find more than 100 diseases and conditions under the word “arthritis.” But many people with arthritis symptoms have one of two diseases, rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.
Some of the symptoms—including pain and stiffness around one or more joints—seem similar. The causes and treatment, however, differ.
What are Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis?
- Rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA, occurs when your body’s own immune system begins attacking your joints. Along with joint pain, you may have fatigue, a low-grade fever, and weight loss.
- Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage and other tissue cushioning your joints wears down with time and use.
Why Do I Have It?
- Doctors don’t understand why some people develop RA and others don’t. It affects more women than men. Hormones and genes may play a role.
- Osteoarthritis may run in families. But getting older, being overweight, injuring your joints, or having a job that involves repetitive motion increase your risk. This type also occurs more frequently in women.
Who Should I Talk To?
If you have arthritis symptoms, talk with your primary care doctor. He or she may refer you to a rheumatologist—a doctor with special training in arthritis and related conditions.
What Arthritis Treatments are Available?
Treatments for arthritis include rest, exercise, proper diet, medication, and instruction from your physician about the proper use of joints and ways to conserve energy.
- Some medications can help with the pain and inflammation of arthritis. For example, acetaminophen may help ease the pain, while NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and ketoprofen, may be helpful with both pain and swelling. Medications called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can slow the joint damage caused by RA. They work best when you start them early—so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as you notice signs of arthritis. Your doctor will closely monitor how well you’re doing on the medications and watch for side effects, such as infection. Pain medications can soothe aches and reduce swelling in osteoarthritis. If you’re heavy, losing weight can often reduce arthritis symptoms. Your doctor can give you shots to relieve severe cases.
- Surgery to replace all or part of a damaged joint, such as a knee or hip, may be suggested for joints with serious damage.
What Everyday Activities Might Help?
Moderate, consistent exercise may relieve joint pain and improve your quality of life if you have either type of arthritis. Talk with your doctor about the best program for you. Many people find relief—and joy—in recreational and leisure activities, including gardening, swimming, and dancing.
Arthritis Experiences Vary
Though knowing the basics can help, everyone handles the disease differently—you might not have a textbook case. Working with your doctor on an arthritis treatment plan can help you reduce pain, protect your joints, and live an active life.
Always consult your physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional before changing your daily activity, diet, or adding a supplement.
“Arthritis Advice.” National Institute on Aging. Updated March 10, 2016. www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/arthritis-advice.
“Arthritis Treatment Timeline.” Arthritis Foundation. www.arthritistoday.org/about-arthritis/types-of-arthritis/rheumatoid-arthritis/treatment-plan/treatment-choices/treatment-timeline.php. Accessed June 2, 2016.
“Drug Guide: DMARDs.” Arthritis Foundation. www.arthritistoday.org/arthritis-treatment/medications/types-of-drugs/disease-modifying-drugs/drug-guide-dmards.php. Accessed June 2, 2016.
“Exercise and Arthritis.” American College of Rheumatology. Reviewed April 2015. www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Living-Well-with-Rheumatic-Disease/Exercise-and-Arthritis.
“Frequently Asked Questions—General Public.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated May 9, 2016. www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/faqs.htm.
“Handout on Health: Rheumatoid Arthritis.” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. February 2016. www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp.
“Osteoarthritis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated October 28, 2015. www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/osteoarthritis.htm.
“Physical Activity and Arthritis Overview.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated May 9, 2016. www.cdc.gov/arthritis/pa_overview.htm.
“Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated October 28, 2015. www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/rheumatoid.htm.