Rheumatology focuses on rheumatic diseases that 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. Almost any joint can be affected in rheumatic disease. There are more than 100 rheumatic diseases. There are some of the common types:
Osteoarthritis 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. Osteoarthritis 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 Osteoarthritis, depending on the joints involved, include:
- Pain in joint
- Joint swelling
- Joint may be warm to touch
- Joint stiffness
- Muscle weakness and joint instability
- Pain when walking
- Difficulty gripping objects
- Difficulty dressing or combing hair
- Difficulty sitting or bending over
To diagnose Osteoarthritis, your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms and do a physical exam. Blood tests may help rule out othertypes 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 Osteoarthritis 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.
In Rheumatoid Arthritis, 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. Rheumatoid Arthritis 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 Rheumatoid Arthritis, 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 Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Sjogren’s syndrome is an inflammatory, autoimmune disease. It can occur with other autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, but also on its own. Although the cause of Sjogren’s is unknown, it is more common in women. Sjogren’s signs and symptoms include:
- Dry eyes (the glands in eyes do not make adequate tears)
- Eye irritation and burning
- Dry mouth (the glands in mouth do not give adequate saliva)
- Dental decay, gum disease, thrush
- Swelling of the parotid glands on the sides of the face
- Joint pain and stiffness (rarely)
- Internal organ diseases (rarely)
To diagnose Sjogren’s syndrome, your doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your medical history. Blood tests and other tests may also be performed. A simple biopsy of the inner lip or other area may help confirm the diagnosis.
Treatments for Rheumatic Diseases
Treatments for rheumatic diseases include medications to improve symptoms and control disease. Along with drugs, other parts of a treatment plan include:
- Regular exercise
- Balanced diet
- Stress reduction
Working with a rheumatologist can help you find the best ways to manage your condition.