Inflammatory vs. Non-Inflammatory Arthritis: What's the Difference?
What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a condition in which one or more of your joints are inflamed. This can result in stiffness, soreness, and in many cases, swelling. Inflammatory and non-inflammatory arthritis are the two most common forms of the condition. However, there are dozens of different arthritis types. Inflammatory arthritis is usually referred to as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and non-inflammatory arthritis is best known as osteoarthritis (OA).
Click through the slideshow to learn more about both types.
Causes of Osteoarthritis Arthritis
Even though it is called non-inflammatory arthritis, OA still results in inflammation of the joints. The difference is that this inflammation is the result of wear and tear. In particular, OA results from the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage is the slick tissue that covers and cushions the ends of the bones in a joint.
Injuring the joint can accelerate the progression of OA, but even everyday activities can contribute to OA later in life. Being overweight and putting extra strain on the joints can also cause OA. Non-inflammatory arthritis is most commonly found in the knees, hips, spine, and hands.
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
RA is a much more complicated disease, but it’s usually confined to the hands and fingers. Like psoriasis or lupus, RA is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue.
The cause of RA remains a mystery. However, because women are more likely to develop RA than men are, researchers theorize that it may be largely due to genetic and/or hormonal factors. RA can also appear in children, and affect other body parts, such as the eyes and lungs.
Symptoms of Arthritis
The symptoms of RA and OA are similar, in that they both involve stiffness and sometimes pain in the joints. But the stiffness with RA tends to last longer than it does during flare-ups of OA. And the discomfort associated with OA is usually concentrated in the affected joints. RA is a systemic disease, so its symptoms can also include weakness and fatigue.
After your doctor performs a physical examination of the arthritic joint, they may order screening tests. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can reveal the state of soft tissue, such as cartilage, in a joint. Standard X-rays can also show cartilage breakdown and bone damage, but they’re not as effective in diagnosing RA.
Your doctor may order a blood test to determine if the joint problem is due to RA. This is to look for the presence of “rheumatoid factor,” antibodies that are found in most RA cases.
Treating Non-Inflammatory Arthritis
You doctor may recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen for minor flare-ups or mild cases of arthritis. Corticosteroids, which can be taken orally or by injection, can reduce inflammation and minimize the impact of the immune system on the joints.
Physical therapy can help improve muscle strength and the joint’s range of motion. When damage to the joint is severe, surgical interventions such as joint repair or replacement are an increasingly common approach.
Treating Inflammatory Arthritis
The use of NSAIDs and corticosteroids is frequently recommended for RA patients, too. A powerful drug called methotrexate, which is also prescribed for serious cases of psoriasis, can be extremely effective. But, it’s often recommended to be taken only once a week.
New drugs continue to be tested to help treat RA and reduce symptom intensity. And like OA, RA can sometimes be relieved through physical therapy.
Living with OA or RA can be a challenge. Regular exercise and weight loss can help reduce the burden on your joints. Exercise not only contributes to weight loss, but it also can help support the joints by strengthening the muscles around them.
Assistive devices such as canes, raised toilet seats, or equipment to help you drive a car and open jar lids, are available to help you maintain independence and daily function.
Don’t Delay in Seeking Help
Even though there’s no cure for OA or RA, both conditions are treatable. As with most health challenges, getting an early diagnosis and a head start on treatment often results in the best outcomes.
Don’t just chalk joint stiffness up to another unavoidable sign of aging. Aggressive treatment and a better understanding of your specific arthritic condition may help keep you more active and more comfortable in the years ahead.
- Mayo Clinic. Arthritis. (January 2013). Retrieved from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/priapism/hic_priapism.aspx
- National Institutes of Health. Arthritis. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/osteoarthritis.html
- Retrieved from University of Maryland Medical Center. Rheumatoid arthritis. (June 2013) Retrieved from http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/rheumatoid-arthritis