Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are often confused but are not the same condition. Osteoarthritis is the result of wear and tear on your joints, which causes weakening and deterioration of your cartilage [Mayo Clinic]. Rheumatoid arthritis, is an auto-immune disorder, whereby your body attacks and destroys joint cartilage [NIAMS]. Both conditions, however, share common symptoms, including joint paint, stiffness and swelling.
Osteoarthritis is most common in old age. Rheumatoid arthritis, unlike like osteoarthritis, is not an older-age condition. The typical age of onset for rheumatoid arthritis is mid-life, although children and adolescents can also develop the condition. Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder which is generally caused by genetic factors.Osteoarthritis is also caused by a genetic predisposition, but other factors influence the breakdown of the joints, such as obesity, over-use of the joint and injury [Mayo Clinc]. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are more common in women than in men.
Osteoarthritis typically affects the hands, knees, hips, neck and lower back. Osteoarthritis is usually asymmetrical such as in the right knee. However, a person can have osteoarthritis develop on both sides of the body, such as the right and left knee, even requiring a knee joint replacement. It is even possible for the same person to have osteoarthritis develop on opposite sides of the body and in different joints (example: osteoarthritis in the right knee and the left hip).
Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, tends to affect primarily the wrist and finger joints. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is symmetrical in its development. Rheumatoid arthritis also causes other symptoms that are unrelated to joint deterioration, such as fatigue, fever and a vague feeling of sickness. The symptoms of osteoarthritis get progressively worse as you age [Mayo Clinic]. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, however, can flare up and dissipate. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis experience flare-ups that last a few months or a year [NIAMS].