Rheumatic Diseases: Everything You Need to Know

The term rheumatic disease describes more than 200 unique health conditions that affect more than 50 million people in the United States. Much confusion and misinformation exist about rheumatic disease for this reason. Also known as musculoskeletal disease, all rheumatic diseases share the general features of persistent pain and difficulty with range of motion. Depending on the specific disease, symptoms can include inflammation that appears in obvious ways such as redness, swelling, or skin feeling warm to the touch in the affected area of the body. Some rheumatic diseases also affect internal organs.

Rheumatic diseases are common and affect women far more often than men. These diseases appear more often than any other groups of diseases in both the United States and Europe. Rheumatic disease can have a significant impact on quality of life and can even reduce life expectancy depending on the specific disease and its severity level.

Arthritis is Just One of Many Rheumatic Diseases

One reason that people feel unclear about the definition of rheumatic disease is that others refer to it and arthritis interchangeably. While arthritis might be one of the best-known rheumatic diseases, the term does not describe any other condition that leads to pain and range of motion difficulties. The term arthritis means joint inflammation. People with this condition often have stiff joints and can suffer from permanent damage to joints as well. Other rheumatic diseases you may have heard of include:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Gout
  • Juvenile arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Scleroderma

Common Symptoms of All Rheumatic Diseases

In addition to pain and inflammation, you may also experience one or more of these symptoms with any type of rheumatic disease:

  • Chest pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Eye irritation
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Hair loss
  • Joint deformity
  • Seizures
  • Stroke

Because these symptoms could indicate any of more than 200 diseases, it is important to schedule a medical evaluation if you start experiencing them suddenly or they persist beyond a few weeks. United Hospital Center (UHC) Rheumatologists are available to help you now.

Some Risk Factors Can Increase Your Risk of Developing a Rheumatic Disease

It is not always possible to prevent getting a rheumatic disease. This is especially true with risk factors such as aging and genetics. However, it is a myth that rheumatic diseases only affect the elderly. More than two-third of people with a diagnosed rheumatic condition are under 65, with 300,000 of them being children. Fortunately, rheumatic diseases have some risk factors you can control. Smoking and being overweight are two of the most preventable risk factors associated with rheumatic disease. People whose occupation requires them to overuse their joints are also at a heightened risk.

Diagnosing Rheumatic Diseases

If you suspect that you have a rheumatic disease, it is essential that you see a rheumatologist for diagnosis and treatment rather than a general medical provider. Our rheumatologists have years of specialized training and experience in diagnosing the correct rheumatic disease and helping patients achieve the highest quality of life possible.

When you arrive at UHC for your initial appointment, your rheumatologist will review your detailed medical history and ask several questions about your presenting symptoms. You will likely undergo one or more imaging tests and a blood test as well. With more than 200 possible rheumatic diseases, keep in mind that diagnosis might not happen right away. The key is to remain patient and communicate openly with your rheumatologist about your current symptoms, other health conditions you may have, and report any new or worsening symptoms.

Treating Rheumatic Diseases

Most rheumatic diseases are chronic, which means these will not go away on their own. Treatment can help you manage the symptoms, but you will always have the condition. The specific course of treatment your rheumatologist recommends depends on the diagnosis you receive. Patients typically take some form of prescription medication to help with pain and inflammation. Requesting a referral from your primary doctor to a rheumatologist at UHC within the first three months after developing symptoms can decrease the likelihood of organ and joint damage. It is also more likely your rheumatic disease will go into remission when you seek prompt treatment.

Inflammatory rheumatic diseases typically respond well to a class of drugs known as disease modifying drugs. These tend to have a more immediate as well as long-lasting impact on pain, inflammation, and other rheumatic disease symptoms. Some patients do well with cortisone or steroid injections while others may require surgery to give them the quality of life they desire.

Schedule an Appointment with UHC Rheumatology

At UHC, we care about our patients and do not want to see anyone needlessly suffer. If you recognize any of the symptoms we listed or just feel you could have a rheumatic disease, please seek prompt diagnosis and treatment by scheduling an appointment. You may reach our department directly at 681-342-3490.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.