What’s The Difference Between Rheumatoid And Osteoarthritis Treatments?

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Pain, swelling, even loss of mobility and deformation—these are all symptoms and consequences of arthritis. However, some people may not realize that arthritis is not a specific disease. Rather, it is a broad, informal category referring to various joint discomforts and diseases. There are, in fact, over 100 different types of conditions that fall under the nomenclature. Two of the most common types are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. While both are characterized by joint pain and damage, they stem from separate, distinct causes. As a result, their methods of treatment have their differences as well. Understanding the underlying causes behind rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis will help to put the similarities and differences of their treatments into perspective.

Osteoarthritis versus Rheumatoid Arthritis

The degenerative condition called osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint pain. It occurs as the result of normal wear and tear throughout our lives. Between our bones there are layers of soft cartilage, which is flexible enough to cushion joint whenever it moves. When these layers of cartilage wear down, bone grinds against bone, causing discomfort and pain as well as the loss of strength and mobility. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is caused by an autoimmune disorder. A normally functioning immune system protects the body’s internal environment from external threats like bacterial and viral infections. In rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, however, the immune system also attacks healthy tissues—sometimes major organs, but most commonly the membrane that lines joints, called the synovium. This causes inflammation, swelling, pain and eventually erosion of the joint tissues. So, although both of these types of arthritis are characterized by pain and tissue destruction, each is caused by events on a different scale: osteoarthritis on the scale of everyday activity, and rheumatoid arthritis at the microscopic scale of cellular interactions. As a result, treatments of the underlying causes will differ.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

The goals of rheumatoid arthritis treatment are to prevent damage, eliminate pain, and improve joint function. To accomplish these ends, patients may be prescribed a variety of drugs targeting one or more of these crucial objectives. Analgesics are available over the counter or, for more serious cases, in prescription strength. These drugs are effective in reducing the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, but they do not treat the underlying cause, which is inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs both relieve pain and reduce inflammation; they, too are available off the shelf or by prescription. To get at the real mechanism driving rheumatoid arthritis, doctors may also prescribe disease modifying antirheumatic drugs or biologic response modifiers. Although they go about it differently, each of these inhibits the immune system’s ability to attack joint tissue. They may do this broadly, by affecting the immune system as a whole, or they may target specific processes at work in the autoimmune response. However, tampering with the immune system may leave the patient more susceptible to infection. Remission can be achieved if rheumatoid arthritis is identified early. One study has shown that if the disease is identified within a year of its onset and aggressive treatment is undertaken immediately, there is a nearly 50% remission rate. Even amongst long-standing sufferers, frequent testing and targeted, responsive treatment resulted in high rates of improvement.

Osteoarthritis Treatment

Because rheumatoid arthritis springs from internal, cellular reactions, its treatment relies heavily on medication. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, occurs due to individual behavior, and so treatment options emphasize changing those behaviors for the betterment of overall health. Although it may seem counterintuitive, one the best things you can do for arthritic joints is to exercise them. This will help to reduce pain and prevent further damage. Stretching will help you to increase your joints’ flexibility and function, while strength training will build your muscles and protect your joints from damage. Other recommended ways to exercise your joints are walking and water aerobics. Both of these are low-impact, heart healthy and energy intensive. These activities will ultimately reduce wear and tear on joints by helping you to lose weight. Weight loss can also be achieved by eating a healthier diet. In particular, the so-called arthritis diet, or Mediterranean diet, is a solid choice for people living with osteoarthritis. This eating plan features copious fish, whole grains, nuts, beans and plenty of olive oil, all of which improve joint health. There are, of course, also medications involved in the treatment of osteoarthritis. These are targeted primarily at relieving pain. Common pain relievers are effective in some cases of osteoarthritis, while others may require stronger prescription medications. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers may also engage in physical therapy to maintain or improve joint strength and flexibility. Occupational therapy may also be called for, which will help patients adapt to performing everyday tasks in new ways that are more suited to their condition. And, in some instances, patients may need to undergo surgery to correct damage or replace joint components with prostheses. Such extreme measures, though, are not always necessary. By following their doctor’s advice and adhering to their treatment plans, people suffering from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are more able to lead healthy, pain-free lives.