What are arthritis and rheumatic diseases?
The term arthritis is often used to refer to any disorder that affects the joints. There are more than 100 rheumatic diseases. Rheumatic diseases usually affect joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles. Some rheumatic diseases can also affect the organs.
Who gets arthritis and rheumatic diseases?
Rheumatic diseases affect millions of people of all races and ages in the United States.
What are the types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases?
There are numerous types of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, including:
- Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It damages cartilage (tissue that cushions the ends of bones) and bone.
- Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body attacks the joint’s lining. The hands and feet are mostly affected.
- Gout is a type of arthritis caused by crystals that form in the joints, usually beginning in the big toe.
- Infectious arthritis is caused by bacteria or viruses.
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is the most common form of arthritis in childhood
- Spondyloarthropathies usually affect the spine. There are a few forms:
- Bursitis occurs when small, fluid-filled sacs in the joint become swollen.
- Fibromyalgia causes muscle pain and tender points—areas on the body that are painful when pushed.
- Polymyalgia rheumatica affects many of the structures around the joint.
- Polymyositis causes muscle swelling and weakness.
- Scleroderma causes the skin, blood vessels, and joints to become thicker. The disease sometimes also affects the lungs and kidneys.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus swelling and damage to the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and brain.
- Tendinitis causes swelling of the tissues that connect muscle to bone.
What are the symptoms of arthritis and rheumatic diseases?
There are different symptoms, depending upon the disease. People with arthritis usually feel pain in one or more joints. Joints may also be warm, red, or hard to move.
What causes arthritis and rheumatic diseases?
There are probably many genes that make people more likely to have rheumatic diseases. Research has found some of these genes.
If you have the disease gene, something in your environment—such as a virus or injury—may trigger the disease.
Are there tests for arthritis and rheumatic diseases?
To diagnosis you with arthritis or another rheumatic disease, your doctor may:
- Ask you about your medical history.
- Give you a physical exam.
- Take samples for a laboratory test.
- Take x-rays.
How are arthritis and rheumatic diseases treated?
There are many treatments that can help relieve pain and help you live with arthritis and rheumatic diseases. You should talk to your doctor about the best treatments for you, which can include:
- Medications to relieve pain, slow the disease, and prevent further damage.
- Surgery to repair joint damage or relieve pain.
Who treats arthritis and rheumatic diseases?
Doctors who diagnose and treat arthritis and other rheumatic disease include:
- General practitioners, such as your family doctor.
- Rheumatologists, who specialize in arthritis and other diseases of the bones, joints, and muscles.
- Orthopaedists, who specialize in treatment and surgery for bone and joint diseases.
- Physical therapists, who help improve joint function.
- Occupational therapists, who teach ways to protect joints, minimize pain, perform activities of daily living, and conserve energy.
- Dietitians, who teach about good diets and maintaining a healthy weight.
- Nurse educators, who help you understand your condition and help start treatment plans.
- Rehabilitation specialists, who help you make the most of your physical potential.
- Licensed acupuncture therapists, who reduce pain and improve physical functioning by inserting fine needles into the skin at specific points on the body.
- Psychologists or social workers, who help with social challenges caused by medical conditions.
- Chiropractors, who focus treatment on the relationship between the body's structure—mainly the spine—and its functioning.
- Massage therapists, who press, rub, and otherwise manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body.
Living with arthritis and rheumatic diseases
There are many things you can do to help you live with arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, including:
- Exercise can reduce joint pain and stiffness. It also helps with losing weight, which reduces stress on the joints. You should speak to your doctor about a safe, well-rounded exercise program.
- Diet is especially important if you have gout. You should avoid alcohol and foods such as liver, kidney, sardines, anchovies, and gravy.
- Heat and cold therapies can reduce joint pain and swelling.
- Relaxation therapy can help reduce pain by teaching you ways to relax your muscles.
- Splints and braces support weakened joints or allow them to rest. You should see your doctor to make sure your splint or brace fits well.
- Assistive devices such as a cane or shoe insert can ease pain when walking. Other devices can help you open jars, close zippers, or hold pencils.