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What Are Rheumatic Diseases?

Rheumatic diseases affect your joints and muscles. Some, like osteoarthritis, are the result of wear and tear. Others, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are immune system problems.

Your treatment plan will likely include medications, regular exercise, a healthy diet, stress management, and rest.

A doctor who specializes in these conditions, called a rheumatologist, can help you find the best ways to manage your condition.

Years ago, conditions like this fell under the broad heading of rheumatism. Now there are more than 100 distinct rheumatic diseases. Get to know the most common ones.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

What it is: Osteoarthritis damages cartilage, the cushiony material on the end of bones. As it wears down, joints hurt and it becomes harder to move. It usually affects the knees, hips, lower back, neck, fingers, and feet.


  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Stiffness

Muscle weakness can make joints unstable. Depending on what parts of the body it affects, OA can make it hard to walk, grip objects, dress, comb hair, or sit.

Diagnosis: Your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms. You’ll also get a physical exam. You may also need to get blood tests or let your doctor take a sample of fluid from an affected joint.

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


What it is: Lupus (also called SLE or systemic lupus erythematosus) is an autoimmune disease. It can affect many organs in your body.


Diagnosis: 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.

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