About rheumatic diseases

What is rheumatic diseases?

A rheumatic disease affects the joints and connective tissues. Arthritis, gout, and ankylosing spondylitis are just three of the more than 100 types of rheumatic diseases.

More than 100 diseases are classified as rheumatic diseases, including many types of arthritis. Arthritic conditions are distinguished by red, swollen joints and inflamed connective tissues such as cartilage, synovial tissue, and tendons. Other rheumatic diseases are considered autoimmune diseases, meaning that the body's own immune system is turning on parts of the body.

Rheumatic diseases wind up involving the joints, says Kevin Deane, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. That can be plain old wear-and-tear arthritis, joint problems caused by infection, autoimmune disorders, or crystal diseases, such as gout.

The term rheumatic comes from the Greek root rheuma, explains Dr. Deane, which means flux, but it's come to mean related to the joint.

By some estimates, 46 million people in the United States are living with rheumatic diseases, which are the most common causes of reduced mobility.

Rheumatic Diseases Overview

Here are some of the more common rheumatic diseases:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis. This is the most common of the spondyloarthropies, rheumatic diseases that specifically affect the spine. Ankylosing spondylitis, most common in young adults, also inflames tendons in the hips, knees, and shoulders, causing pain and stiffness.
  • Fibromyalgia. Millions of adults struggle with the chronic fatigue and pain of this rheumatic disease, which attacks the muscles and tendons that support your joints, causing stiffness and pain as well as sleep disturbances. Fibromyalgia is nine times more likely to occur in a woman than a man.
  • Gout. About 2.1 million adults have this rheumatic disease, which is characterized by uric acid crystals in the joints most often the big toe that cause episodes of pain and swelling. Gout is more often a problem for men than women.
  • Infectious arthritis. Some forms of arthritis are caused by viral or bacterial infections. For example, Lyme disease, which results from the bite of a tick carrying specific bacteria, may cause inflammation, pain, and stiffness of joints. Other types include parvovirus arthritis and gonococcal arthritis. Identifying these infections early means antibiotics can be used to prevent joint damage.
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis. The most common arthritis in childhood, this rheumatic disease causes pain, swelling, and loss of joint function and may be accompanied by fevers and rashes.
  • Lupus. Technically called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), this rheumatic disease is an autoimmune disease. About 150,000 people are living with lupus, which attacks the body's own healthy cells and tissues, causing damage to joints and organs throughout the body. Ninety percent of people with lupus are female.
  • Osteoarthritis. This is the most common type of arthritis. It affects 27 million adults in the United States. This rheumatic disease destroys cartilage and bone, causing disability and pain.
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica. This rheumatic disease is often a red flag of diseased arteries (giant cell arteritis) and can lead to headaches, inflammation, unintended weight loss, and fever. People with this disease have morning stiffness, aches, and pains in the lower back, neck, hips, and shoulders. These symptoms are due to damage to tendons, muscles, ligaments, and joint tissues.
  • Psoriatic arthritis. This is a form of arthritis that occurs in people with the skin disorder psoriasis. This painful disease affects joints of fingers and toes and creates visible changes in finger- and toenails.
  • Reactive arthritis. Also known as Reiter's syndrome, this is another spondyloarthropy. This rheumatic disease is often triggered by an infection in the bowels, urinary tract, or other organs. People with reactive arthritis develop skin rashes, sores on the mouth, and eye troubles.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Nearly 1.3 million people have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This rheumatic disease destroys the synovial tissue, and the lining of joints, causing swelling, pain, and stiffness throughout the body. Unlike other rheumatic diseases, RA symptoms tend to occur symmetrically, meaning that if your right hand is affected, your left hand will be also. Women are two to three times more likely than men to have RA.
  • Sclerodoma. With this rheumatic disease, the body produces too much collagen, the fibrous material that supports the structure of skin and other organs. Scleroderma literally means hard skin but also particularly affects blood vessels and joints.

While all rheumatic diseases differ from each other in some small but important ways, they share one important characteristic: If you get diagnosed early in the disease, you and your doctor can devise a treatment plan that will help preserve your mobility and reduce pain. So if you suspect you have a rheumatic disease, talk to your doctor.

What are the symptoms for rheumatic diseases?

Sometimes they’re called musculoskeletal diseases. Common symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • Loss of motion in a joint or joints
  • Inflammation -- swelling, redness, and warmth in a joint or affected area

What are the causes for rheumatic diseases?

Most of these conditions happen when your immune system goes awry and attacks your own tissues. Doctors aren’t sure what causes this. Sometimes it’s in your genes. Other times it’s a result of something in the world around you, like cigarette smoke, pollution, or something that causes an infection. Gender also plays a role -- rheumatic diseases seem to affect women more than men.

What are the treatments for rheumatic diseases?

Treatment is dependent on a specific type of Rheumatic disease

What are the risk factors for rheumatic diseases?

According to the National Organization for Rare Diseases, the exact cause of this condition is unknown in about two-thirds of cases.

Age and gender are the greatest risk factors for the disease. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it occurs most often between the ages of 40 and 60. However, it can develop at any age. The condition occurs twice as often in men as in women.

Specific conditions linked with retroperitoneal fibrosis can include:

The disorder can also be associated with:

  • recent surgery on the abdomen or pelvis
  • the use of cancer treatments involving external beam radiation
  • certain medications to treat migraines and high blood pressure

Is there a cure/medications for rheumatic diseases?

There is no cure for rheumatic diseases except infectious arthritis. Treatments and medications can be divided into short-term and long-term reliefs. Short term reliefs focus on massage, joint immobilization, etc.

Long-term relief includes medications like:

  • Oral analgesics, or painkillers, such as over-the-counter acetaminophen, and prescription narcotics, or opioids, like oxycodone and hydrocodone, which don't address the underlying cause of the illness
  • Topical painkillers
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, which are available over-the-counter, and prescription medications are known as COX-2 inhibitors, which can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic medications (DMARDs), which work by influencing the body's inflammatory and immunological responses, can help rheumatic disorders progress more slowly.
  • Corticosteroids such as prednisone that can be taken orally or can be injected. These medications contain hormones to treat rheumatic diseases.
  • Biologics like etanercept (Enbrel), golimumab (Simponi), infliximab (Remicade), adalimumab (Humira), anakinra (Kineret), rituximab (Rituxan), and abatacept (Orencia) are used to decrease and interrupt the inflammation process.

Affected joints, muscles, bones and organs
Methotrexate,Tofacitinib,Leflunomide,Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil),Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) (Xeljanz)
Bruised, heated, and tender joints,Swelling in a joint or joints,Joint stiffness,Fatigue, fever, and appetite loss,Joint pain,Limited movement in the affected joint or joints

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