Is Osteoarthritis an Autoimmune Disease? Main Facts

Jun 02, 2024 | 4 min read

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Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition caused by mechanical wear and tear on joints, not an autoimmune disease. Understanding its main causes and managing symptoms is crucial for maintaining quality of life.

is osteoarthritis an autoimmune disease

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint condition that affects the cartilage covering the ends of bones. This disease wears down the cartilage, causing pain, swelling, and difficulty moving joints. Unlike some forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis is not an autoimmune disease but results from mechanical wear and tear over time.

Osteoarthritis can impact any joint, commonly affecting the hands, feet, back, legs, knees, and hips. The degeneration of cartilage and bones significantly impacts daily life. 

According to the WHO, with aging populations and increasing rates of obesity and injury, the prevalence of osteoarthritis is expected to rise globally.

As the cartilage breaks down, bones rub together, causing further damage and inflammation. This can lead to bone spurs, small growths that develop on the edges of bones, making joint movement painful and restricting mobility.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Recognizing the symptoms of osteoarthritis is crucial for early diagnosis and management. Here are the main symptoms:

  • Joint Pain: Pain ranging from mild discomfort to severe pain that limits daily activities, often worsening with activity and improving with rest.
  • Swelling: Inflammation in the joint leads to swelling, making the joint appear larger and feel warm to the touch.
  • Stiffness: Noticeable stiffness, especially after periods of inactivity, which usually improves with gentle movement.
  • Loss of Mobility and Flexibility: Difficulty in performing activities that involve bending or moving the affected joints.
  • Tenderness: Joints may become tender to the touch, causing pain when pressure is applied.
  • Popping or Cracking Sounds: Known as crepitus, these sounds occur when the roughened surfaces of the cartilage and bones rub against each other.
  • Sensation of Bones Grating Together: As the cartilage wears away, the sensation of bone grating can occur, leading to further discomfort and functional limitations.

Recognizing these symptoms early and consulting with a healthcare professional can lead to a better management plan, potentially slowing the progression of osteoarthritis. 

Online Symptom Checker can be useful for checking symptoms and identifying the causes. However, it is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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Causes of Osteoarthritis

Understanding the causes of osteoarthritis can help in managing and potentially preventing the condition. Here are the main risk factors:

  • Age: The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases with age. As people get older, the wear and tear on their joints accumulate, leading to the degeneration of cartilage.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men. Hormonal changes, especially after menopause, might contribute to this increased risk.
  • Physical Injury or Trauma: Previous injuries to joints or ligaments can lead to osteoarthritis. Damage from sports, accidents, or repetitive stress can cause long-term joint issues.
  • Weak Muscles: Muscles support and stabilize joints. When muscles are weak, the joints experience higher strain, which can accelerate cartilage breakdown.
  • Weight Gain: Obesity puts additional stress on weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips. This increased load can speed up the wear and tear of cartilage.
  • Hereditary Factors: Genetics can play a role in the development of osteoarthritis. If family members have had joint problems, there may be an increased risk of developing the condition.

These risk factors highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and seeking early medical advice if symptoms of osteoarthritis appear.

Is Osteoarthritis an Autoimmune Disease?

Osteoarthritis is not an autoimmune disease. It is a chronic condition that results from the mechanical wear and tear of the joints over time. 

Unlike autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its tissues, osteoarthritis involves the gradual breakdown of cartilage due to physical stress and aging. 

This distinction is crucial for understanding the nature of osteoarthritis and its management.

How Is Osteoarthritis Different From Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Understanding the differences between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment. Here is an in-depth comparison between the two conditions:

Age of Onset:

  • Osteoarthritis usually starts after age 50.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis typically begins between ages 30 and 60.

Affected Joints:

  • Osteoarthritis often affects weight-bearing joints such as the feet, hips, knees, and spine.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis commonly impacts smaller joints, such as those in the hands and feet.


  • Osteoarthritis: Causes joint pain and swelling, which can be worse after activity and improve with rest.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Leads to symptoms of heat, pain, redness, stiffness, and joint tenderness due to inflammation.

Symmetry of Symptoms:

  • Osteoarthritis pain is usually asymmetrical, affecting one side of the body more than the other.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis pain is symmetrical, meaning it affects the same joints on both sides of the body.

Diagnostic Differences:

  • Osteoarthritis: May show bony growths (osteophytes) and joint space narrowing on X-rays.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Blood tests may reveal inflammation and anemia. X-rays and other imaging can show bone erosion and joint deformities.

Understanding these differences helps in identifying the correct type of arthritis and pursuing the appropriate treatment. If you experience joint pain and other related symptoms, consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial. Early and accurate diagnosis can lead to better management and improved quality of life.

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In conclusion, osteoarthritis is a chronic joint condition caused by the mechanical wear and tear of cartilage over time. It is not an autoimmune disease, which sets it apart from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis that involve the immune system attacking the body's own tissues.

Understanding the differences between these types of arthritis is essential for accurate diagnosis and effective management. Recognizing the symptoms early and consulting with healthcare professionals can help in creating a comprehensive treatment plan that can improve quality of life.

Remember, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, managing weight, and seeking timely medical advice are key steps in managing osteoarthritis.

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