Rheumatoid arthritis is categorized as a form of rheumatism, also called a rheumatic disease. Rheumatism is a term that was used to describe a variety of different conditions all with similar symptoms. Today, doctors reach much more specific diagnoses regarding rheumatic diseases and do not use the term rheumatism as a diagnosis but rather as a category of conditions.

What is Rheumatism?

Rheumatism is a general term applied to a number of different conditions that produce similar symptoms. Rheumatic conditions cause inflammation in the muscles and joints and can potentially lead to cartilage and bone damage.

The result is often chronic pain, swelling, and soreness in the joints and surrounding areas. Symptoms of rheumatism can sometimes make it difficult to perform daily activities. Many patients find that their mobility, dexterity, and range of motion decreases with symptoms of rheumatism.

In most cases, treatment options help patients with rheumatic conditions continue to live full and happy lives while reducing pain and managing symptoms.

Rheumatic Symptoms

Under the broad category of rheumatism, there are several fundamental symptoms common among all conditions. These specific symptoms include:

  • Localized pain for example in hands, fingers, shoulders or knees
  • Stiffness, swelling and tenderness in joints and muscles
  • Redness and warmth in joints and muscles
  • Reduced mobility and lack of range of motion in specific joints and muscles

Many patients who suffer from different types of rheumatic diseases will often complain of other symptoms not directly under the common joint inflammation symptoms.

These symptoms include:

  • Low-grade fever
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Malaise or generally feeling unwell

Often times, patients with rheumatic diseases will notice their symptoms worsen in response to changes in weather especially during periods of high humidity.

Many patients also notice that with regular and moderate exercise their symptoms improve. However, vigorous exercise can activate and worsen symptoms.

Types of Rheumatic Diseases

There are over 100 unique types of rheumatism each with varying symptoms, disease courses, and treatment options. In general, all rheumatic conditions affect the musculoskeletal system which includes muscles, bones, joints, tendons and ligaments. Most rheumatic diseases are chronic and generally persist throughout the rest of patients’ lives.

Some types of rheumatic diseases can go on to affect the organs and cause other conditions. Many patients can suffer from several forms of rheumatic conditions at once.

Here are some of the most common conditions under the broad term of rheumatism:

These and other types of rheumatic diseases have their own possible causes and risk factors. Different segments of the population are also at greater risk of developing certain rheumatic conditions.

Who Develops Rheumatism?

It is estimated that approximately 50 million Americans suffer from some form of rheumatic disease. Rheumatism can affect patients from all ethnic backgrounds and ages. Women are more commonly affected than men in many rheumatic diseases, which leads doctors to believe there may be a hormonal risk factor associated with rheumatic diseases. This may apply in particular to rheumatoid arthritis.

Many rheumatic conditions are more common in patients at or after middle age. Though the onset of rheumatoid arthritis has been seen in female patients as young as 30. Rheumatic diseases can also affect children in the form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (also known as juvenile idiopathic rheumatoid arthritis). Children as young as 2 years old can potentially develop rheumatic symptoms.

Diagnosing Rheumatism

Because the symptoms of rheumatism can be quite general, it is sometimes difficult to diagnose rheumatic conditions. There is a lot of crossover between the different types of rheumatism. Doctors must perform thorough physical examinations and ask their patients specific questions about symptoms.

Doctors also look at medical history to find any potential genetic link to rheumatic symptoms. If doctors feel that a rheumatic condition could be in question, they refer the patient to a rheumatologist for further examination and diagnosis.

Depending on what the rheumatologist determines, the patient may be sent for blood tests and imaging scans to help diagnose and possibly rule out certain rheumatic conditions.

Causes of Rheumatism

Rheumatism is caused by a number of different factors and depends on the type of rheumatic disease in question. Some rheumatic diseases develop as the result of wear and tear on joints that comes with age or repetitive use of joints.

In other cases, rheumatism is the result of an autoimmune condition that triggers the body to respond with inflammatory symptoms. Genetics and environmental factors are thought to be the common triggers in most rheumatic diseases.

Risk Factors of Rheumatism

There are a number of risk factors associated with rheumatism and its many different types. Some of the most important risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Genetics
  • Occupations with repetitive motions
  • Sports injuries
  • Old age

Treatments for Rheumatism

Though there are many differences in the types of rheumatism and their causes, the one fact all rheumatic diseases share is that treatment is much more effective when the condition is diagnosed as early as possible.

Rheumatism is diagnosed and treated by specialized physicians known as rheumatologists. Rheumatologists can treat all the various rheumatic diseases in different ways in many types of patients from children to seniors.

Treatment options for rheumatic diseases include using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Steroidal medications can also be used if symptoms persist.

Patients with rheumatic disease are encouraged to continue with regular and moderate exercise in order to maintain range of motion and mobility. A healthy diet is also recommended to manage weight and prevent obesity, which can exacerbate rheumatic symptoms. Eliminating bad lifestyle habits like smoking is another way to reduce inflammatory symptoms and protect your health.