Arthritis is a general medical term used to define an inflammation of the joints. A joint is the bendable area of your body where two bones meet. Often, arthritis involves the breakdown of the cartilage within your joints. Cartilage is a hard layer of protective tissue that allows your joints to move smoothly during activity. If your joint cartilage is damaged, your bones rub together and create symptoms of pain, swelling and stiffness.
Over 100 different types of arthritis exist. Arthritis can be caused by certain autoimmune diseases, broken bones, normal aging, genetic inheritance or infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control, arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States, affecting nearly 21 million people. A complete physical exam, diagnostic tests and a medical history need to be reviewed by a physician to correctly diagnose which type of arthritis is affecting you.
Osteoarthritis is the degeneration of joint cartilage, followed by bone degeneration in some areas and bone overgrowth in others. Primary osteoarthritis is a disease associated with aging, but not part of the normal aging process. The older you are, the more likely you are to have osteoarthritis. Secondary osteoarthritis will develop earlier in life, occurring about 10 years after an injury or physical stress.
Osteoarthritis commonly affects the knees, hips, hands and spine. It can occur in other joints, but rarely. An osteoarthritic joint may feel painful during or after movement and stiff after inactivity. Occupations with repetitive tasks that place stress on particular joints have a higher risk for causing osteoarthritis. Also, carrying more body weight, a sedentary lifestyle, and being a woman increases your risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Defined
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease. In this disease you body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium, the thin membrane lining the joints. It usually causes symmetrical pain, swelling and redness in joints of the hands, feet, wrists, ankles, knees and elbows. Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect your skin, heart, blood vessels and lungs. Inflammation of the synovium may erode the joint cartilage and bone, which can cause joint deformity.
Your physician should follow The American College of Rheumatology classification criteria to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. An early diagnosis means treatment can begin sooner because tissue erosion is usually most dramatic during the first year of the disease. Treatment within three months from the onset of symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is likely to reduce disease activity, thus preventing joint deformity.
Comparing Arthritis, Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Arthritis is a general term that encompasses many different diseases and conditions that can cause joint pain, stiffness and swelling. Osteoarthritis has the highest prevalence rate of all arthritis, affecting 33.6 percent of individuals in the United States over 65 years old. Rheumatoid arthritis is less common and tends to affect a younger population at 0.6 percent incidence in adults over 18 years old. Also, as the population ages, the percentage of incidence is higher for women in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
The cause of osteoarthritis is thought to be both mechanical and molecular, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Osteoarthritis may affect one joint and include the hips and spine, whereas rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the same joint on each side of the body and is not common in the hips or spine.