Two arthritic hands. The left hand has a fused bone representing osteoarthritis while the hand on the right is disfigured because of RA.

OA Is Miserable, Too - But Different from RA

Having RA for 20+ years now, starting in my 40’s, I really had no direct experience with the impact of osteoarthritis (OA) until the last few years.  Up until now, it was fairly benign, not coming anywhere near the intensity of my RA in terms of pain, fatigue, effects on my day to day life, etc.

Well, that has officially changed.  I would guess many of you have OA and lots of experiences with it but, for me, reflecting on the addition of OA to my chronic disease management is new. 

Surgery for osteoarthritis-related complications

I am going to have surgery on my little finger in the coming months to fuse the first joint from the tip because OA has given me bone spurs and all the cartilage is gone, leaving bone on bone.  This means a lot of pain and distortion of the finger and, because it is my dominant hand (left), it is constantly being bumped and typing has become an issue as well. 

Ready for the pain to be gone

I met with a hand surgeon the other day, and it seems this is a pretty simple procedure.  He even thinks I may still have some mobility in that joint, but to be honest, I really don’t care at this point.  I want the pain gone.  I also have this on my right hand, in the same finger, but much less and not something that causes pain at this point.  So, I will leave that one for now.

Osteoarthritis in my knees

Now, given my age, and the years of running and walking I have done, I have OA in my knees as well, although not too bad, which is encouraging.  Enough that climbing steps are difficult but otherwise, I am fine.  I will likely get some injections soon, as recommended by my rheumatologist, to lubricate them, hopefully extending my years of mobility.  I firmly believe that Tai Chi and swimming are keeping my knees in better shape than they might otherwise be.

Rheumatoid arthritis is completely different from osteoarthritis

Most of us face OA as we move through life because it is considered the “wear and tear” one, more related to age and exertion on the joints unlike RA, which is autoimmune in nature and completely unrelated to aging or wear and tear. 

RA is systemic with many comorbidities

Those differences also apply to treatment options to some extent.  Aside from the fact that both may respond to pain relievers, topical or oral, and anti-inflammatories, RA requires that we address the autoimmune factor, often requiring ongoing medications that suppress our immune response. 

In addition, RA is more systemic in nature so that fatigue, brain fog and other issues arise.  Co-morbidities such as RA lung, Sjogren’s, high blood pressure, depression, etc., further complicate the management of RA.

OA brings about a different type of disability

This is not meant to diminish, in any way, the discomfort or disability that accompanies OA. I can now testify to that. The difference, for me, is largely in how to address them. 

OA seems, so far at least, rather straightforward.  Pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and perhaps surgery.  Once determined, you move on with the strategy and then you are done.  Even hip and knee replacements, when related to OA, can give the patient complete relief and return them to a normal life of mobility.

Managing these recent issues with OA

RA is never done. It is much more complex, ongoing, lifelong, and life-altering.  I will handle this new hurdle and add it to my experiences to inform my continuing journey with RA.

Nan

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