Unless you have a medical degree, you might be under the impression that arthritis is a singular condition – the inflammation of one or more joints, causing pain and stiffness that only gets worse with age.
Actually, however, there are several different types of arthritis. Two of the most common forms are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Even though their symptoms can be similar, there are significant differences between the two that are important to understand to determine the proper treatment.
OA vs. RA
An estimated 27 million Americans are afflicted with osteoarthritis. OA is what most people call simply “arthritis,” and it usually develops in an isolated joint in the hands, neck, lower back, knees, or hips.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the smooth cartilage joint surface wears out. Symptoms can include joint pain, stiffness, swelling, or tenderness.
On the other hand, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system malfunctions, often attacking the synovial membrane that encases and protects several joints at one time.
Symptoms of RA can include painful swelling, tenderness, and stiffness for six weeks or longer; morning stiffness that lasts 30 minutes or longer; fever; anemia; fatigue; and loss of appetite. These symptoms can come and go, but flare-ups can last for days or months.
Whereas OA usually presents asymmetrically (affecting only one side of the body at a time), OA usually presents with symmetrical joint swelling (affecting both sides) that has been persistent for a period of time, affecting wrists, elbows, ankles, or knees.
In severe cases of RA, deformities of the hand can cause the fingers to point in different directions. In addition, RA not only affects joints, but it can also cause high levels of inflammation throughout the body – including lung inflammation that can result in shortness of breath.
Because of these differences, treatment options for RA are significantly different from those for OA.
Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis treatment involves the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help address symptoms of pain and inflammation. In order to reduce the autoimmune response, a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) such as methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, sulfasalazine, or leflunomide may be prescribed.
If this combination proves inadequate, a biologic medication such as Humira, Enbrel, or Actermra may be considered. Also, corticosteroids can be administered to reduce inflammation until DMARDs and biologics take effect.
In contrast, osteoarthritis treatment options may include:
- Analgesics like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and NSAIDS for pain relief
- Topical capsaicin as an alternative or addition to medicine
- Exercise and weight loss to help relieve pain and reduce joint stiffness
- Corticosteroid injections to temporarily ease pain and inflammation
Arthritis Pain Doctors in Austin
Don’t let osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis spoil your quality of life. Using advanced interventional therapy and procedures, the caring and trustworthy pain specialists at Balcones Pain Consultants utilize state-of-the-art diagnostics and comprehensive care to devise a customized treatment plan to help restore your mobility.
For more information on our services, call our office today at (512) 834-4141 to arrange a consultation. You can also request an appointment here. We look forward to helping you live a more pain-free lifestyle.