Can You Have Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis Together?

An elderly patient talks with her doctor.
An elderly patient talks with her doctor.. Terry Vine/Getty Images

Question: Can You Have Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis Together?

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most well-known types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis -- affecting about 21 million Americans. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most disabling or crippling type -- affecting about 1.3 million Americans. The two types of arthritis are distinctive in their similarities and their differences.

Is it possible to have both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis at the same time?

Answer: Yes, Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis Can Occur Together

The short answer is yes -- it is possible to have both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis at the same time. For example, your knee may be affected by rheumatoid arthritis but your spine may have degenerative changes that support the diagnosis of osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Your own immune system attacks your joint and causes inflammation of the synovium and eventually damaging the cartilage. But beyond joints, this disorder of your immune system can affect your cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Osteoarthritis is not an autoimmune disease and it is far more common. It can be broken down into two types, which can explain why you might have osteoarthritis at the same time as rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Idiopathic or primary osteoarthritis: In this case, there isn't an obvious reason for you to have osteoarthritis, it may just be wear and tear on your joints as you age. It may affect just one or two joints. Most people develop primary osteoarthritis at an older age, past age 55. When you develop osteoarthritis in your knee or hip in your retirement years and you have no condition they can identify as a cause, it may be labeled primary or idiopathic osteoarthritis.
  • Secondary osteoarthritis: In these cases, your doctor can identify a cause of osteoarthritis in a joint. The underlying condition may be a joint injury, rheumatoid arthritis or other joint conditions, or another medical condition (e.g., obesity).

Osteoarthritis does not cause rheumatoid arthritis, but rheumatoid arthritis can lead to secondary osteoarthritis. It is possible that rheumatoid arthritis caused the joint injury that led to osteoarthritis, or you may have coincidental primary osteoarthritis in a joint while you have rheumatoid arthritis in other areas.. Rheumatoid arthritis affects more than just your joints.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Findings from a physical exam, blood tests and x-rays all help distinguish between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. As for treatment, pain medication and other pain management techniques will help with both conditions.

However, drugs that are specifically for rheumatoid arthritis, such as biologic drugs, will have no effect on osteoarthritis.

In rheumatoid arthritis, they are treating the autoimmune condition. In osteoarthritis, they are primarily treating the pain and inflammation and not an autoimmune condition.

The Bottom Line on Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

It is possible to have only osteoarthritis or only rheumatoid arthritis, but it is also possible to have both conditions at the same time. Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to secondary osteoarthritis.


Patient information. Osteoarthritis symptoms and diagnosis. UpToDate. Kalunian KC et al. July 20, 2015.​

Osteoarthritis Causes, Arthritis Foundation

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