What's the Difference Between Arthritis and Osteoarthritis?

Reviewed on 6/24/2022
Illustrations of various parts of the human body affected by osteoarthritis
Arthritis involves inflammation of any part of a joint. Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition in which the cartilage between bones that cushions the joints wears down.

Arthritis describes over 100 different conditions that involve inflammation of any part of a joint, including the joint lining (synovium), cartilage, bones, and supporting tissues. 

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis that often develops with age. It is a chronic condition in which the cartilage between bones that cushions the joints wears down and as it does, the bones rub against each other, causing pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced joint motion.

Other types of arthritis include: 

What Are Symptoms of Arthritis and Osteoarthritis?

The main symptom of most types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, is joint symptoms, such as: 

  • Pain
  • Swelling 
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness
  • Warmth
  • Redness
  • Limited movement/decreased range of motion or flexibility

Depending on the type of arthritis, other symptoms that can accompany joint symptoms include: 

What Causes Arthritis and Osteoarthritis?

There is no one main cause for arthritis, and causes depend on the type of arthritis. 

Causes and risk factors for osteoarthritis include:

  • Advancing age 
    • At least 80% of people over age 55 have some X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis
  • Gender 
    • Women are two to three times more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis 
  • Joint injury or trauma
  • Occupations that require frequent squatting and kneeling
  • Obesity
  • Sports such as boxing, wrestling, pitching in baseball or softball, cycling, ice hockey, soccer, gymnastics, and football

How Are Arthritis and Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?

Forms of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, are diagnosed with a medical history and physical examination along with laboratory and imaging tests such as:

  • Blood tests
    • Rheumatoid factor (RF) 
    • Antinuclear antibody (ANA) for SLE
    • Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (CCP) 
  • Arthrocentesis (also called joint aspiration or joint tap)
  • X-rays (also used to monitor changes in the joint over time)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Ultrasound

What Is the Treatment for Arthritis and Osteoarthritis?

Treatment for osteoarthritis and other forms of arthritis may include lifestyle modifications, medications, and/or surgery. 

Lifestyle modifications to treat osteoarthritis include:

  • Exercise programs 
  • Weight loss if needed
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Orthoses such as splints and braces
  • Assistive devices such as canes, walkers, raised toilet seats, tub and shower bars, and electric-powered seat lifts
  • Arthritis education and support 

Medications used to treat osteoarthritis include:

Surgery is a last resort used when severe osteoarthritis does not respond to other treatments and significantly limits a person’s activities. 

Reviewed on 6/24/2022

Image source: iStock Images