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Rheumatoid Arthritis: 13 Things You Should Know

First Posted: 01/07/11 08:38 AM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 07:25 PM ET

Most people with arthritis have osteoarthritis, which commonly occurs with age.

But there's another type called rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a serious autoimmune disease. The two are often confused -- which can be endlessly frustrating for those with RA.

"Everybody says that arthritis is one word," says Christopher Evans, DSc, Ph.D., the Maurice Mueller Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "But the conditions are quite different."

Here are 13 ways to tell the two apart.

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While osteoarthritis is typically a disease of older people -- often thought to be the result of years of wear and tear -- RA can come on quickly at any age, even in children.

The average onset of RA is between 30 and 50 years old; osteoarthritis strikes most people later in life. (It's called juvenile RA when it occurs before age 16.)

"Unless you've been banged up on a sports field or in a car crash, it's very unusual to see someone with osteoarthritis at a young age," says Evans.

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Filed by Nicholas Miriello  |