Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis

The first step in finding relief from joint pain, swelling, and stiffness is working with your doctor to determine if you could be having symptoms of certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or osteoarthritis (OA). The sooner you know, the sooner you can begin treatment and find relief from your symptoms.

We’ve put together a quick guide to help you understand the differences between RA and OA. While RA and OA can both lead to joint pain and stiffness, there are important differences that can help you have a conversation with your doctor to assist in identifying which type of arthritis you might have—and ultimately—how to treat it. Use the chart below to learn more about RA and OA.

What is it?

Autoimmune disease CLOSE Autoimmune disease: a disease that occurs when a person’s own immune system attacks tissue in the body.  that impacts the joints.
Wear and tear of the joints.

How are joints affected?

The body’s own immune system CLOSE Immune system: the body’s natural defense mechanism that responds to infection, injury, and diseases. It can also help heal damaged tissues.  attacks joint tissue, causing inflammation, joint pain, stiffness, and swelling.
Joint cartilage CLOSE Joint cartilage: tissue that covers the ends of the bones, providing cushion for a joint.  breaks down over time, causing joint pain, stiffness, and swelling.

Are men or women more commonly affected?

Two to three times more common in women.
More common in men before age 45. More common in women after age 45.

At what age do symptoms begin?

Can occur at any age, but most often begins in middle age.
Most often begins in middle age and becomes more common with age, but younger people can get it primarily from joint injuries.

How long can joint pain and stiffness last
after waking in the morning?

Can last for over 30 minutes after waking.
Often fades within 30 minutes of waking.

Are the same joints on both sides of the body affected in the same way?

Yes, can cause a symmetrical pattern of inflammation. CLOSE Symmetrical pattern of inflammation: if one joint is affected (e.g., finger or knee), it’s likely the same joint on the other side of the body will be similarly affected.
Not necessarily—individual joints can be affected and to varying degrees.

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