Rheumatology is a medical discipline that diagnoses and treats autoimmune conditions and joint diseases. A rheumatologist is a physician who is a specialist in the nonsurgical treatment of rheumatic illnesses.
Inflammatory rheumatism is a generic term covering dozens of conditions referred to as rheumatic disorders. Many are autoimmune diseases that develop when the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue instead of germs, bacteria, and viruses.
Although incurable, rheumatoid disorders can be managed with medication and healthy lifestyle behaviors.
What Are Rheumatic Diseases?
The 100+ rheumatic diseases are characterized by inflammation in the connecting or supporting structures of the body – joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles.
Some rheumatic diseases affect the organs. These diseases can ultimately cause loss of function in those body parts.
Types of Rheumatic Diseases
The most common rheumatic diseases include:
Osteoarthritis – affects and destroys cartilage.
Rheumatoid arthritis – autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the synovium – lining of the joints.
Fibromyalgia – chronic condition of tender joints and localized pain throughout the musculoskeletal system.
Lupus – autoimmune disorder causing inflammation in skin, brain, heart, lungs, blood, kidneys, and joints.
Gout – arthritis that develops when crystals of uric acid deposit in the joints, especially the big toe.
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis – common form of arthritis in children.
Infectious arthritis – caused by an infection, such as Lyme disease or Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
Psoriatic arthritis – arthritis affecting fingers and toes, associated with psoriasis.
Polymyositis – affects the muscles.
Bursitis – inflammation of the bursae.
Ankylosing spondylitis – affects hips, shoulders, knees and spine.
Reactive arthritis – or Reiter’s syndrome, develops after an infection of the urinary tract, bowels, or other organs.
Scleroderma – autoimmune disease that causes thickening, tightening, inflammation and scarring of the skin and other parts of the body.
Polymyalgia rheumatic – causes pain and stiffness in connective tissues.
Vasculitis – rare but potentially life-threatening inflammation of blood vessels.
Sjogren’s syndrome – a common but hard to recognize condition, with symptoms similar to other conditions.
Causes and Risk Factors
Rheumatic diseases are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Factors that put you at risk:
- Age – osteoarthritis is more common in older adults.
- Gender – Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Scleroderma, fibromyalgia, and lupus. Gout and spondyloarthropathies are more common among men.
- Ethnicity – lupus commonly affects African-Americans and Hispanics.
- Lifestyle – obesity and smoking increase risk for many rheumatic diseases.
- Diet – may increase or decrease risk for certain rheumatic diseases.
- Genetics – variations of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes; inherited cartilage weakness combined with excessive joint stress; family history of rheumatic disease, all pose risks.
Rheumatic Disease Symptoms
Any unexplained, persistent body symptom and discomfort may be an indication of a rheumatoid disease. Rheumatologists are always on the lookout for mysterious symptoms – weakness, rashes, fevers, fatigue, joint or muscle pain, anemia, weight loss, even anorexia. Any of these could point to some form of autoimmune disease.
The typical characteristic of rheumatic disease is inflammation, causing:
- Stiffness, especially in the morning
- Warmth and redness
- Difficulty using the joint normally
Rheumatic diseases also produce other symptoms:
- Eye inflammation or infections
- Rashes and sores
- Pain in the neck, spine, or back
- Difficulty breathing deeply
- Muscle pain
When to See a Doctor
If you have joint pain that doesn’t have an obvious cause, you may be referred to a rheumatologist for further evaluation and diagnosis.
He will discuss all your current symptoms, medical history, professional and personal lifestyles, and conduct a physical exam. He may order blood, urine, or joint fluid tests, X-rays, or other imaging tests.
It is essential to consult a rheumatologist if a disorder is suspected, as they can lead to potentially severe complications, including certain cancers and nerve dysfunction.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease.
Various types of medication are prescribed to treat rheumatic diseases. Some drugs only treat symptoms like pain and inflammation, while others can alter the course of the disease.
Treating rheumatoid diseases can involve the use of steroids, as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, which help reduce inflammation. Steroids also reduce the hyperactivity of the immune system. This can help decrease symptoms and prevent tissue damage.
Other drugs specifically block the immune system. They are prescribed if steroids don’t control your symptoms. Immunosuppressive drugs are effective, but have long-term side effects, and disable your immune system’s ability to fight off infections.
Depending on the particular condition, medications may include:
Oral analgesics – (painkillers), over-the-counter and prescribed.
Topical analgesics – to be applied over the affected area.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), over-the-counter and prescription-grade COX-2 inhibitors to reduce pain and inflammation.
Corticosteroids– strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – slow the progression by affecting the body’s immune reactions and inflammatory processes.
Biologics – a subclass of DMARDs that target the body’s inflammatory processes.
Janus kinase inhibitors – a DMARD that targets the body’s immune system response
Other Rheumatic Disease Treatments
Besides medication, other types of treatments may be prescribed for rheumatic disease:
- Exercises for muscle strength and joint flexibility
- Diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, fish, and olive oil
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Hot and cold therapy
- Splints, braces, and assistive devices for weak joints
- Relaxation therapy
- Surgery for joint replacement
If you suffer or suspect you may be suffering from a rheumatic disorder, contact the providers at Lynx Healthcare can diagnose the problem and help you get relief. Our clinics throughout Washington and Oregon offer prompt, caring treatment to help you regain your quality of life. Find the location nearest you for personal care from top-quality specialists.