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Gout and rheumatoid arthritis are two different forms of arthritis, an umbrella term that encompasses upwards of 100 inflammatory diseases of the joints. Because both gout and rheumatoid arthritis can cause nodules to form in the hands and feet, thereby causing pain and inflammation, these two conditions are commonly confused. While it’s possible to have both diseases at the same time, only 2 percent of individuals with gout will experience rheumatoid arthritis, and vice versa. Because the causes and treatments of each type of arthritis are different, it’s important to have the proper diagnosis in order to move forward with the best course of treatment.

The similarities between gout and rheumatoid arthritis are plenty. First of all, the flares of each come and go. This means that there are periods of time when the sufferer is entirely symptom-free, as well as times when the symptoms are much worse. Secondly, there is a genetic component to both gout and rheumatoid arthritis. Simply put, having a family history of either disease makes an individual more likely to experience that condition themselves, whether it be gout or rheumatoid arthritis. Thirdly, both conditions are linked to body mass, and obese people are more likely to be diagnosed.

Both gout and rheumatoid arthritis are inflammatory disorders, but in addition, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition. While gout is caused by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood, rheumatoid arthritis is due to the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells, either in the synovial tissues or in the linings of the joints. Another major difference is that gout affects more men than women, whereas the opposite is true of rheumatoid arthritis, affecting nearly 3 times as many women compared to men. As for age, gout typically strikes before the age of 60, while the onset of rheumatoid arthritis is usually in a person’s 60s.

The symptoms of gout and rheumatoid arthritis also differ, and the long-term consequences of rheumatoid arthritis are much more devastating than those of gout. The most common symptoms of gout include inflammation, swelling, tenderness, warmth, and reduced range of motion in the joints. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, include pain, aching, and stiffness in the joints, as well as fatigue, fever, weakness, and weight loss. When rheumatoid arthritis progresses to more advanced stages, the long-term effects of the disease may include permanent damage to the joints, reduced mobility and altered appearance of the hands and feet, bone density loss, scarring and inflammation of the eyes, and premature heart disease.

Treatments for gout and rheumatoid arthritis are vastly different, and doctors can detect which one to treat by looking at changes in the blood. If the test comes back as gout, treatment includes medications to reduce acute gout inflammation or block the production of uric acid in the body. Dietary and lifestyle changes are also advisable. In contrast, the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis includes disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, biologic response modifiers, and consuming an anti-inflammatory diet. Certain lifestyle changes can sometimes be beneficial as well, such as losing weight or quitting smoking.