Arthritis: Rheumatism or Rheumatoid?

Most of us know a family member who has complained of joint pain. Patients often have a family history of arthritis, but not all types of arthritis are the same, even within that same family. Take for instance rheumatism, or more commonly called osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is bone and joint pain related to degeneration, or wearing and breakdown, of cartilage and bone. Commonly, this disease begins after the age of 40 and progresses into old age. On the other hand, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, an abnormal process in which the body’s own immune system reacts to its own tissue. This type of disease is not due to the wearing and breakdown of one’s body and occurs in a smaller number of people; however, it can result in progressive disability. Do you know how to tell these types of arthritis apart?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 13 percent to 14 percent of adults older than 25 years of age will suffer from osteoarthritis. This disease can occur symmetrically, on both sides of the body, or asymmetrically, on only one side of the body, in the hands and knees. Osteoarthritis can result in episodes of pain and stiffness that last typically less than 30 minutes. There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but the treatment of symptoms can decrease pain and improve quality of life. Treatment can include over-the-counter or prescription pain relieving medication, which includes acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications: i.e., ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.; physical therapy and arthritic joint steroid injections. In more advanced cases, joint replacement, called arthroplasty, can result in significant improvement in quality of life and a return to normal function.

In contrast to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis appears somewhat abruptly with constant symptoms of symmetric joint – hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, ankles, feet – pain and swelling as well as prolonged morning joint stiffness lasting greater than 60 minutes. Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to loss of function and permanent disability.

It is important to recognize rheumatoid arthritis early and prevent joint damage before it becomes permanent. Once the damage is done it cannot be repaired. At least one percent, as estimated by the CDC, of the United States population has rheumatoid arthritis with more than one million individuals affected.

Fortunately, there are several options with new treatments available every year to help patients overcome this disease. Treating rheumatoid arthritis within the first six months of symptoms will increase the odds for control-remission. Time is of the essence, if you think you are affected by rheumatoid arthritis contact your primary care provider to discuss your concerns.

For more information on the Cooper Rheumatology Program  or to make an appointment for an evaluation, call 856.342.2034 or request an appointment online at

You’re invited to the South Jersey Health Summit for Arthritis
presented by the Arthritis Foundation and Cooper Bone and Joint Institute

Saturday, November 16, 2013
8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Cooper University Hospital
One Cooper Plaza, 10th Floor, Roberts Pavilion

Join the Arthritis Foundation and Cooper Bone and Joint Institute for a day of arthritis education and fun. Speakers and topics include:

Lawrence S. Miller, MD – “Diseases of the Shoulder: Replacement & Treatment Options”
Sharon L. Kolasinski, MD – “Complementary and Alternative Medicines”
Douglas S. Tase, MD – “Introduction to total Hip and Knee Replacements”
Ashley Cully, RD – “Age Healthy and Live Well”
Gunilla Petersen-Billings, OTR, CHT – “Osteoarthritis of the Thumb”

For more information, or to register, please visit

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