Osteoarthritis (OA or Degenerative Arthritis)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Catherine Burt Driver, MD
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

Picture of osteoarthritis of the hand

Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis

While both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis can lead to significant joint destruction and functional disability, there are many basic differences between these two forms of arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a destructive autoimmune joint disease that features inflammation in the joint lining tissue (synovium) that normally produces lubrication and nutrient fluid for joints.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a disease of the cartilage of joints. Osteoarthritis is not a systemic disease and not an autoimmune disease. Osteoarthritis is partly a result of natural aging of the joint.

Quick GuideOsteoarthritis (OA): Treatment, Symptoms, Diagnosis

Osteoarthritis (OA): Treatment, Symptoms, Diagnosis

Osteoarthritis facts

  • Osteoarthritis is a joint inflammation that results from cartilage degeneration.
  • Osteoarthritis can be caused by aging, heredity, and injury from trauma or disease.
  • The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is pain in the affected joint(s) after repetitive use. Other osteoarthritis symptoms and signs include
  • There is no blood test for the diagnosis of osteoarthritis.
  • The goal of treatment in osteoarthritis is to reduce joint pain and inflammation while improving and maintaining joint function.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis that features the breakdown and eventual loss of the cartilage of one or more joints. Cartilage is a protein substance that serves as a "cushion" between the bones of the joints. Among the over 100 different types of arthritis conditions, osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease. Osteoarthritis occurs more frequently as we age. Before age 45, osteoarthritis occurs more frequently in males. After 55 years of age, it occurs more frequently in females. In the United States, all races appear equally affected. A higher incidence of osteoarthritis exists in the Japanese population, while South-African blacks, East Indians, and Southern Chinese have lower rates. Osteoarthritis is abbreviated as OA or referred to as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD).

Osteoarthritis commonly affects the hands, feet, spine, and large weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees. Osteoarthritis usually has no known cause and is referred to as primary osteoarthritis. When the cause of the osteoarthritis is known, the condition is referred to as secondary osteoarthritis.

What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint disorder of cartilage. It is not a systemic disease. It is not an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, therefore, it features a misdirected immune system that attacks body tissues (particularly the joint lining tissue called synovium). Rheumatoid arthritis is also a systemic disease. Therefore, rheumatoid arthritis can attack tissues throughout the body beyond affected joints, including the lungs, eyes, and skin.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/11/2017

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