Inflammatory Rheumatism: Symptoms, Types, and Treatments

Inflammatory rheumatism is a term used for rheumatic disorders. They include many different forms of arthritis that lead to painful, swollen joints. They can also affect bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Some can even affect your organs.

Experts say there are more than 200 rheumatic disorders

Most of these conditions happen when your immune system goes awry and attacks your own tissues. Doctors aren’t sure what causes this. Sometimes it’s in your genes. Other times it’s a result of something in the world around you, like cigarette smoke, pollution, or something that causes an infection. Gender also plays a role -- rheumatic diseases seem to affect women more than men. Most rheumatic diseases affect adults, but children can get them too.

Some common ones are:

Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis includes any condition in which joints become painful, swollen, and inflamed. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that happens when the immune system attacks the tissues in the lining of your joints. It can happen in joints anywhere in the body but usually starts in smaller joints in the hands or feet.

Doctors treat rheumatoid arthritis with anti-inflammatory medicines. They may also prescribe treatment that suppresses the immune system.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis you get when cartilage in your joints wears down over time or due to an injury. It usually affects the hands, knees, hips, and spine.

Doctors most often treat this type with pain relievers like Tylenol or ibuprofen. They may also suggest physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the joint and occupational therapy to teach you how to do everyday tasks without putting stress on the joint.

Psoriatic arthritis

This autoimmune condition is often linked to the skin disease psoriasis. Most people may have skin symptoms before they get joint symptoms. Sometimes it affects the joints first. Some people never have skin symptoms. In addition to stiff, swollen, and painful joints, you might also have pain where tendons and ligaments attach, and swollen fingers and toes.

Like rheumatoid arthritis, doctors treat this type with medicines to ease the pain and drugs to calm your immune system.

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Juvenile idiopathic arthritis

When arthritis affects kids, doctors call it juvenile arthritis. Most of the time, juvenile arthritis results from a child’s immune system mistakenly attacking their joints.

Doctors often treat juvenile arthritis with steroids. Sometimes they use drugs to suppress the immune system.

Spondyloarthritis

This type of arthritis affects places where ligaments and tendons attach to bones. It’s most common in the spine. But it also can affect your arms and legs.

Doctors treat spondyloarthritis with anti-inflammatory pain relievers and medications to control your immune system.

Gout

Gout is a type of arthritis. It results from uric acid building up in the bloodstream and forming needle-like crystals. Those crystals can settle in your joints and cause sudden and extreme pain. It usually starts in your big toe, but can affect other joints, too.

Treatment for gout includes anti-inflammatory pain relievers and drugs that lower the level of uric acid in your system. You may be able to lower the number of attacks if you limit meat and alcohol and drink lots of water.

Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can involve many body parts. It often causes the same symptoms as arthritis, but you could also have a rash, mouth sores, and other problems.

Doctors treat lupus with hydroxychloroquine, a drug originally created to treat malaria. Other medicines for lupus include steroids and drugs that suppress your immune system.

Fibromyalgia

This condition causes inflammation and widespread pain. It’s more likely to affect you if you already have another autoimmune condition.

Doctors treat fibromyalgia with antidepressants. Other drugs work by blocking the nerves that cause pain. Exercise and alternative therapies like acupuncture and massage also may help.

Scleroderma

This autoimmune disease causes your skin to thicken and harden. It also affects other organs.

Drugs typically used to treat other rheumatic conditions usually don’t work for scleroderma. Doctors often treat the symptoms with heartburn and blood pressure medicines, along with drugs to ease inflammation and creams to treat dry skin.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

This common nerve disorder affects your carpal tunnel, a narrow opening between the bones and ligaments along the palm side of your wrist. Symptoms include numbness, weakness, and loss of hand function.

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Your doctor may recommend pain medicine or steroid shots. If those don’t work, you could need surgery.

Lyme disease

This infection spreads through tick bites. If left untreated, it can lead to a variety of symptoms, including joint and muscle pain.

Doctors treat Lyme disease with antibiotics. If they don’t catch it early, sometimes symptoms like fatigue and pain will last after the infection clears.

Sjögren's syndrome

This autoimmune condition affects your tear and saliva glands. It causes burning eyes, dry mouth, and trouble swallowing. You’re most likely to get it if you have another autoimmune condition like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

Doctors usually manage Sjogren’s with eyedrops, gum, humidifiers, or drugs that help you make more saliva. Sometimes, medicines for other rheumatic conditions help, too.

Vasculitis

This group of conditions involves inflamed blood vessels. Symptoms include shortness of breath, numb or weak hands or feet, and red spots, lumps, or sores.

Doctors often treat vasculitis with steroids or drugs to suppress your immune system. Sometimes, they recommend surgery.

Diagnosing Your Rheumatic Disorder

Everyone has aches and pains sometimes, but if you or a loved one is having pain in joints, bones, or muscles that’s getting in the way of normal activities and won’t go away, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor.

It’s not always easy to tell what’s causing this pain. Your doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in these disorders. It might take time and a variety of tests to figure out what is causing your problems and what the best treatment plan for you may be.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo on April 30, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “Rheumatoid Arthritis,” “Juvenile Arthritis.”

Eular.org: “10 things you should know about rheumatic diseases.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Infectious Arthritis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Fibromyalgia,” “Rheumatoid Arthritis,” “Osteoarthritis,” “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”

Harvard Health: “Chronic Lyme arthritis: A mystery solved?”

American College of Rheumatology: “Rheumatic diseases in America: the problem, the impact, and the answers,” “Osteoarthritis,” “Juvenile Arthritis,” “Spondyloarthritis,” “Gout,” “Lupus,” Fibromyalgia,” “Scleroderma,” “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome,” “Lyme Disease,” “Sjogren’s Syndrome,” “Vasculitis,” “What is a Rheumatologist?”

UpToDate: “Undifferentiated early inflammatory arthritis in adults.”

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