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What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

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Quick Answer

The primary difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis is the cause, according to WebMD. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself, including the joints. Osteoarthritis is caused by joint destruction mainly due to mechanical issues.

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Full Answer

Rheumatoid arthritis specifically targets the joint synovium, or lining of the joint, according to Healthline. The immune system mistakenly identifies the synovium as an invader and attacks it. This results in fluid accumulation and subsequent symptoms. Osteoarthritis does not involve the immune system.

Other differences exist, explains WebMD. Osteoarthritis develops slowly, while rheumatoid arthritis starts rapidly. The age of onset for rheumatoid arthritis is variable, while osteoarthritis usually occurs later. Rheumatoid arthritis is symmetrical, affecting bilateral joints, and osteoarthritis is usually unilateral. Both forms exhibit morning stiffness, however, the stiffness associated with rheumatoid lasts longer. With osteoarthritis, stiffness returns after activity or later in the day. The joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis are swollen, while osteoarthritis rarely exhibits swelling.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a whole body disease, according to Healthline. It can cause muscle pain, fever, fatigue and lumps under the skin called rheumatoid nodules. Osteoarthritis only affects the involved joints and is not systemic. Patients may notice small bone spurs around the joints.

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