A woman holding her wrist

Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis vs Arthritis

When it comes to rheumatoid arthritis vs arthritis, there isn’t a real comparison, because rheumatoid arthritis is one of the many types of arthritis. So, treatment options are similar.

In this article, we’ll explore rheumatoid arthritis in more detail and explain the key differences between it and other types of arthritis. Now, let’s take a closer look!

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The main difference between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other types of arthritis is that RA is an autoimmune condition. This means that the body’s cells are attacking itself. In particular, the body targets the joints (most often the hands, wrists, and knees). In turn, this causes inflammation and pain at the affected joints.

Interestingly, RA may also impact other parts of the body as well, even attacking organs such as the heart, eyes, and lungs.

But wait, how does this differ from other types of arthritis?

Other types of arthritis, like osteoarthritis, are often caused by natural wear and tear at the joint. Over time, the joints become worn down or degenerate. Individuals with other types of arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis, experience a breakdown of cartilage, which usually provides cushion at the joint. Consequently, this can cause bone-on-bone grinding, creating inflammation, stiffness, and pain.

In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis, as stated above, is an autoimmune condition where the body is attacking its own cells. The symptoms of RA aren’t caused by the natural deterioration of the joint over time.

In addition, other types of arthritis don’t usually impact the organs of the body. However, the symptoms and deterioration of the joints in RA and other types of arthritis are similar. In the next section, we’ll look at the symptoms associated with RA.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

RA signs and symptoms may involve:

  • Tender joints
  • Warm and swollen joints
  • Joint stiffness that increases after inactivity or in the morning
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

RA will typically impact smaller joints first, such as the fingers, hands, or feet. Yet, as this condition progresses, a person may notice these symptoms in bigger joints, such as those in the knees, hips, ankles, shoulders, and elbows.

These symptoms may also come and go. Many individuals with RA often experience flare-ups, which are times where their symptoms worsen.

Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Surprisingly, experts and doctors alike aren’t entirely sure why RA happens in the first place. However, many theories exist, including genetic components and triggers relating to environmental and bacterial factors.

Generally, with RA, your body’s immune system begins to attack the lining of your joints, which is also called the synovium. Inflammation results which causes the synovium to become thicker.

However, this can rapidly destroy the cartilage and bone at the affected joint. As time progresses, ligaments and other tissue around the joint become stretched, and the joint itself may become deformed.

While experts aren’t sure why RA happens, there are a variety of risk factors including:

  • Your sex: Women are more likely than men to develop RA
  • Your age: RA frequently happens around middle age
  • Family history: If someone else in your family has RA, your risk is increased
  • Smoking: Smoking is frequently associated with an increased risk of disease, including RA
  • Obesity: If you are overweight or obese, you have a higher risk of developing RA
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to asbestos or silica may also increase your risk of developing RA

Treatment Methods

Luckily, there are various treatment methods available for RA. The most common treatment methods are described below.


Your doctor may recommend or prescribe NSAIDs, Steroids, DMARDs, or other biological response modifiers to help manage your condition. However, medications such as NSAIDs are not recommended to be taken for more than two weeks at a time.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy uses manual therapy techniques and exercises to make movement easier, decrease pain, and help support the joints. In addition, occupational therapy may be recommended depending on the severity of your arthritis.


For serious cases of RA and other types of arthritis, surgery is often used as a last resort. For instance, in many cases of osteoarthritis, joint replacement is recommended after conventional physical therapy and other methods have failed to show improvements. For RA, surgery may involve the removal of the synovium, tendon repair, joint fusion, or a total joint replacement.

Lifestyle Changes

As with any chronic condition, general improvements in your health and lifestyle can vastly enhance your overall quality of life. For those with RA, regular exercise is encouraged, as well as heat or cold application methods and relaxation or stress-reducing techniques.

The Bottom Line

While RA is a unique type of arthritis, the symptoms and treatment methods are similar to other types of arthritis. However, it’s always important to discuss your treatment and health plan with your doctor first. They know you and your situation best and will be able to provide advice pertaining to you and your health.

If you’re experiencing ongoing joint discomfort, stiffness, and pain, book a visit with your doctor. Get a proper diagnosis and begin taking steps toward managing and improving your symptoms as soon as you can.

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