Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis: How to Determine if I have RA or OA?

Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis

Arthritis is an umbrella term to describe inflammation of the joints. However, there are different types of arthritis, including Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Osteoarthritis (OA). While RA and OA both affect your joints, they are extremely different forms of the same broader condition. RA is an autoimmune condition, while OA is primarily a degenerative joint condition. We will discuss Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis


Your joints have protective tissues that prevent the bones from scraping against one another. For instance, cartilage overlies the bones to allow smooth movement in the joint. Arthritis damages this protective tissue.

The following are the causes of joint damage in RA vs. OA:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the joints.
  • With Osteoarthritis, the protective cartilage gradually wears down and your bones begin to scrape against one another. This can result from repetitive movements, such as in sports, that place pressure on the joints.


Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis share numerous symptoms, including the following:

  • joint pain
  • stiffness in joints
  • swelling, which is more severe in RA
  • mobility restriction in affected joints
  • symptoms that worse in the morning

RA symptoms may arise and get worse quickly, sometimes within a few weeks. Conversely, symptoms of OA appear more slowly. This is because the protective tissues in the joints gradually break down.

While Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis can affect any joint in your body, OA is most likely to affect the knees and the small finger and thumb joints. However, RA often occurs in the hands, fingers, elbows, knees, feet and hips. Also, RA typically occurs in the same joints on both sides of the body.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis include the following:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • inflammation in other areas, such as the eyes and lungs
  • rheumatoid nodules

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis include the following:

  • pain in the affected joint after repetitive use or activity
  • morning stiffness that lasts a half hour or less
  • Joint pain that is often worse later in the day
  • Swelling, warming and stiffening of the affected joint after prolonged inactivity
  • Bone spurs, bony enlargements and limited range of motion


Diagnosis of these conditions can be challenging, as the symptoms often overlap. Our doctors at AOCBV diagnose both Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis by performing a physical examination, taking a medical history and carrying out a variety of diagnostic tests.

Blood tests can help diagnose or rule out RA, as this condition leaves certain biomarkers in the blood. Our rheumatologists will also check for abnormal levels of the C-reactive protein antibody. This is a marker that indicates inflammation.

Imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI and ultrasound scans may also be necessary to determine the extend and location of the RA or OA damage.


The following are the primary goals of treating both Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis:

  • reduce pain
  • improve function
  • minimize damage to your joints

These are just the basics of Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis. Your doctor at AOCBV can develop a customized treatment plan, depending on the severity and which condition you have. Contact us with the link below for more information or to schedule your next appointment with us today!

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