Rheumatic diseases are painful conditions usually caused by inflammation, swelling, and pain in the joints or muscles.
Some rheumatic diseases like osteoarthritis are the result of "wear and tear" to the joints. Other rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, happen when the immune system becomes hyperactive; the immune system attacks the linings of joints, causing joint pain, swelling, and destruction.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1% of the population worldwide, but still misunderstanding swirls around this common and severe joint condition.
"There are so many misconceptions out there about rheumatoid arthritis," says Paul Kremer, MD, a rheumatologist and professor of medicine at Albany Medical College in New York.
"Arthritis is common, and rheumatoid arthritis often gets confused with the other kinds of arthritis in people's minds,” he says.
Plus, rheumatoid arthritis is still mysterious...
Almost any joint can be affected in rheumatic disease. There are more than 100 rheumatic diseases but we'll focus on some of the common types.
About 27 million Americans have osteoarthritis (OA), the "wear-and-tear" arthritis. OA causes damage to the cartilage over time. Cartilage is a material that cushions the end of bones and allows joints to move smoothly.
As cartilage of a joint wears down, this joint movement becomes painful or limited.
OA can be a normal part of aging that can affect many different joints. However, it usually affects the knees, hips, lower back, neck, fingers, and feet.
The signs and symptoms of OA, depending on the joints involved, include:
Pain in joint
Joint may be warm to touch
Muscle weakness and joint instability
Pain when walking
Difficulty gripping objects
Difficulty dressing or combing hair
Difficulty sitting or bending over
To diagnose OA, your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms and do a physical exam. Blood tests may help rule out other types of arthritis or medical problems. A joint fluid sample from an affected joint may also be examined to eliminate other conditions.
Usually by the time someone with OA seeks treatment, there are changes visible on an X-ray of the joint. The X-ray may show narrowing of the joint space or the presence of bone spurs. In some cases, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be done.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1.3 million Americans; about 75% of those affected are women.
In RA, the body's immune system attacks its own tissues, causing joint pain, swelling, and stiffness that can be severe. The condition can result in permanent joint damage and deformity.
RA signs and symptoms include:
Joint pain and swelling
Involvement of multiple joints (usually in a symmetrical pattern)
Other organ involvement such as eyes and lungs
Joint stiffness, especially in the morning
Lumps called rheumatoid nodules
To diagnose RA, your doctor will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. Also, X-rays and blood tests will likely be taken. One blood test may be for rheumatoid factor; it is positive in 70% to 80% of those with RA.
SLE or systemic lupus erythematosus is another autoimmune disease; the cause of SLE is unknown.
Lupus signs and symptoms include:
Rashes, including the"butterfly rash" across the cheeks
Discoloration of the fingers or toes when exposed to cold (called Raynaud's phenomenon)
Internal organ involvement, such as the kidneys
Blood disorders, such as anemia and low whit blood cell or low platelet counts
Chest pain from inflammation of the lining of the heart or lungs
Seizures or strokes
To diagnose lupus, your doctor will ask about your medical history, do a physical exam, and order lab tests of blood and urine samples. One blood test is the antinuclear antibody test (ANA). Most people with lupus have a positive ANA blood test.