Rheumatic diseases are characterized by inflammation that affects the connecting or supporting structures of the body — most commonly the joints, but also sometimes the tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles. There are more than 100 different rheumatic diseases, which can be painful, as well as leading to reduced mobility.
Unfortunately there is no cure for rheumatic diseases, but there are effective treatments that help to relieve the symptoms.
Most rheumatic diseases are inflammatory. Others are autoimmune – which means that the immune system attacks its own tissue.
Experts believe rheumatic diseases are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In general, having certain gene variants can increase a person’s susceptibility to rheumatic diseases, and factors in the environment may trigger the onset of the disease.
(For example, environmental factors including hormones, dietary factors, infections, and exposure to tobacco smoke, as well as gene-environment interactions, have been associated with increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis).
Comorbodity: Some rheumatic diseases can cause complications. This means that other organs can also be affected and become inflamed, such as skin, intestines and eyes.
Here are some different rheumatic diseases:
Ankylosing spondylitis / Bechterew’s disease
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis in which there is a long-term inflammation of the joints of the spine. Typically, the joints where the spine joins the pelvis are also affected. Occasionally other joints such as the shoulders or hips are involved. Eye and bowel problems may also occur. Back pain is a characteristic symptom of AS, and it often comes and goes. Stiffness of the affected joints generally worsens over time.
Osteoarthritis is a joint disease where the breakdown of the cartilage occurs faster than the build-up. For example, it may be due to prolonged overload, overweight or heredity. Sports injuries are another common explanation – about half of all serious knee injuries lead to osteoarthritis. Occupations that involve heavy, long-term or repetitive movement can also cause osteoarthritis, for example, in the hip and knee joints. The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases with age as the cartilage becomes fragile over the years.
Child rheumatism is a collective name for various diseases. What unites them is that they cause inflammation in one – or more – joints. The joints hurt, become stiff and can become swollen.
Gout is caused by crystals of uric acid precipitating and settling in the joints. When this happens, inflammation occurs in the joint. Uric acid is a substance that is formed in the liver and spleen. Usually, there is a balance between production and excretion of uric acid. In gout, the amount of uric acid is often higher. This can be either due to too much uric acid being produced or the kidneys not excreting enough.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term autoimmune disorder that primarily affects joints. It typically results in warm, swollen, and painful joints. Pain and stiffness are often worse following rest. Most commonly, the wrist and hands are involved, with the same joints typically affected on both sides of the body. The disease may also affect other parts of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis can result in a low red blood cell count, inflammation around the lungs, and inflammation around the heart. Fever and low energy may also be present.
Psoriatic arthritis is a long-term inflammatory arthritis that occurs in people affected by the autoimmune disease psoriasis. The classic feature of psoriatic arthritis is swelling of entire fingers and toes.
There are many rheumatic diseases. The symptoms vary between the different diseases. But there are also problems that are common between rheumatic diseases. For example:
- joint inflammation, with redness, swelling and heat
- decreased appetite
- reduced mobility
- joint pain
Prevention and protection
There is no known prevention for rheumatism.
If diagnosed, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions and take medication as prescribed. Exercise is also an important part of treatment, as it helps counter stiffness and facilitates an active life.
There is no cure for rheumatic diseases, (with the exception of infectious arthritis, which can be cured with antibiotics if detected or diagnosed early). But symptoms can be relieved. Treatment is through an individually tailored combination of information, physical exercises and medicines. In some cases – but not always – surgery may be required.
When to consult a doctor
Contact a doctor if you or your child have problems with joints that are painful or stiff. The earlier treatment is started, the better.
How APPOTEK can help
APPOTEK cannot directly help with rheumatic diseases because some illnesses require a physical examination. But we can refer you to a specialist for treatment.