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An Overview of Rheumatic Diseases

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Rheumatoid Arthritis continued...

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
  • Fatigue
  • 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. 

Lupus

SLE or systemic lupus erythematosus is another autoimmune disease; the cause of SLE is unknown.

Lupus signs and symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Joint stiffness
  • Rashes, including the"butterfly rash" across the cheeks  
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Hair loss
  • 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.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) usually starts gradually as lower back pain. The hallmark feature of AS is the involvement of the joints at the base of the spine. This is where the spine attaches to the pelvis, also known as the sacroiliac joints.

Ankylosing spondylitis is more common in young men, especially from the teenage years to age 30.

AS symptoms include:

  • Gradual pain in the lower back and buttocks
  • Lower back pain that worsens and works its way up the spine
  • Pain felt between the shoulder blades and in the neck
  • Pain and stiffness in the back, especially at rest and on arising
  • Pain and stiffness get better after activity
  • Pain in the middle back and then upper back and neck (after 5-10 years)

With progression of AS, the spine may become stiffer. It may become difficult to bend for common everyday activities.

To diagnose AS, your doctor will ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam. X-rays of the back looking at the sacroiliac joints may help in making an AS diagnosis. A positive blood test for HLA-B27 protein may help confirm a diagnosis as well.

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