The joint dilemma: The differences between...

The joint dilemma: The differences between...

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Arthritis is a common condition that affects millions of people around the world, leading to joint pain and deterioration. Among the various types of arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Osteoarthritis (OA) are the most prevalent, each with unique causes, symptoms, and treatments. Knowing the differences between RA and OA is crucial for effective management and improving quality of life.

Causes and how they affect the body

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): RA is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the synovium (joint lining), causing inflammation and eventually leading to joint damage. The exact cause of RA is unclear, but it is believed to be a mix of genetic and environmental factors.

Osteoarthritis (OA): OA is primarily a degenerative joint disease caused by the breakdown of cartilage, leading to bones rubbing against each other. This condition is commonly associated with aging, but obesity, joint injuries, and repeated stress can also play a role.

Symptoms and diagnosis

RA Symptoms
RA often affects joints symmetrically and can cause swollen, warm, and tender joints with morning stiffness. It can also impact other organs, resulting in fatigue, fever, and weight loss.
• Joint pain and swelling: Usually affects small joints symmetrically (e.g., both hands or both knees).
• Stiffness: Particularly pronounced in the morning or after periods of inactivity
• Warmth and redness: The skin over the affected joint might feel warm and look red.
• Fatigue: A common symptom, often accompanied by a general feeling of being unwell.
• Fever and weight loss: In some cases, individuals may experience low-grade fevers and unintentional weight loss.
• Deformities: As RA progresses, it can cause joint deformities.
• Systemic involvement: RA can affect other organs and systems, such as the eyes, lungs, and heart.

The signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can change a lot; sometimes they're strong and other times they might disappear for a while. You might experience flare-ups, where the symptoms get worse, but these can be followed by quieter times when the swelling and pain reduce or even go away. Over the long run, rheumatoid arthritis can change the shape of your joints and cause them to move out of their normal position.

OA Symptoms
OA symptoms are usually localised to the affected joints, with pain and stiffness after inactivity or excessive use. Morning stiffness can occur and it mainly affects the hands, knees, hips, and spine.
• Joint pain: Often worsens after activity or as the day progresses. The pain usually occurs in large joints.
• Stiffness: Typically occurs after periods of rest or inactivity, but usually resolves in less than an hour.
• Crepitus: A grating sensation or sound when the joint is used.
• Limited range of motion: May not be able to move the joint through its full range of motion.
• Swelling: Can be due to soft tissue inflammation around the joint.
• Bony growths: Small bone growths or spurs may develop around the affected joint.
• Tenderness: The joint may feel tender when you apply light pressure to or near it.

Treatment and Management
RA Treatment: Managing RA focuses on symptom control and preventing joint damage through medications like DMARDs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and biologics. These medications work to reduce pain and inflammation, and also slow down progression of the condition.

OA Treatment:
OA management aims to relieve pain and improve joint function, incorporating lifestyle changes, physical therapy, weight management, and pain relievers. In severe cases, joint replacement surgery may be an option. There are also certain over-the counter medications that can help to relieve pain and improve movement.

While RA and OA both lead to joint pain, their causes, symptoms, and treatment methods are distinct. RA is an autoimmune condition causing widespread inflammation, whereas OA is a degenerative disease affecting cartilage. Early diagnosis and personalised treatment plans are essential for managing these conditions effectively, underscoring the importance of consulting healthcare professionals for proper assessment and guidance.
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