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What is rheumatism? Symptoms and Treatment

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 287 views

Rheumatism is considered a widespread disease. But actually rheumatism is not an independent disease. Many people think of the term as the disease “rheumatoid arthritis”, but this equation is actually wrong. Because the term rheumatism collects many different diseases.

Due to the many manifestations that rheumatism can have, doctors often speak of the so-called “rheumatic type”. Here you can find out which diseases belong to rheumatism, how to recognize rheumatism and what treatments are available.

Definition: What is rheumatism?
The term “rheumatism” describes a large number of different diseases that mainly cause problems in the musculoskeletal system. The most well-known complaints are joint pains, which is why some also speak of “joint tearing”.

However, rheumatism does not only include diseases that affect joints or joint capsules, but also bones , tendons , muscles or connective tissue . Vascular inflammation is also part of the rheumatic spectrum. Rheumatism can occur at any age. Many diseases are chronic. Serious complications threaten especially when internal organs are affected, an example is kidney failure.

What rheumatic diseases are there?
Rheumatism comprises hundreds of individual diseases. Some of them can be combined under collective terms. The various vascular inflammations are combined, for example, under the term “vasculitis”. Depending on the cause, the large field of rheumatism can be divided into five groups :

Definition: What is rheumatism?

The term “rheumatism” describes a large number of different diseases that mainly cause problems in the musculoskeletal system. The most well-known complaints are joint pains, which is why some also speak of ” joint tearing “.

However, rheumatism does not only include diseases that affect joints or joint capsules, but also bones , tendons , muscles or connective tissue . Vascular inflammation is also part of the rheumatic spectrum. Rheumatism can occur at any age. Many diseases are chronic. Serious complications threaten especially when internal organs are affected, an example is kidney failure.

What rheumatic diseases are there?

Rheumatism comprises hundreds of individual diseases. Some of them can be combined under collective terms. The various vascular inflammations are combined, for example, under the term “vasculitis”. Depending on the cause, the large field of rheumatism can be divided into five groups :

Inflammatory rheumatic diseases

These include diseases that are based on inflammatory processes. As a rule, the defense system is directed against the body’s own cells. Doctors therefore speak of autoimmune diseases . This field includes, among other things, the well-known rheumatic disease “rheumatoid arthritis”, but also connective tissue and vascular diseases.

Autoimmune joint inflammation

When the immune cells attack, it is primarily the joints that become inflamed in these diseases. They are very painful, often swollen, warm and red. But internal organs can also be affected. Autoimmune joint diseases include:

Collagenosis (connective tissue diseases)

In the case of collagenosis, the defense system is directed against the body’s own connective tissue cells . Since there is connective tissue everywhere in the body, such autoimmune diseases can in principle show up in any organ. Women are affected more often than men. Known collagen diseases include:

vasculitis
Vasculitis is an inflammation of blood vessels. It occurs because immune cells attack the body’s own blood vessels. The consequences are sometimes severe damage to the organs that are supplied by the affected vessels. Vasculitis symptoms are correspondingly diverse, since vessels can become inflamed anywhere in the body. In principle, physicians differentiate between three types of vasculitis:

Vasculitis of large vessels, e.g. temporal arteritis (giant cell arteritis)
Intermediate vessel vasculitis, eg Kawasaki syndrome
Vasculitis of small vessels, eg granulomatosis with polyangiitis, Henoch-Schönlein purpura
Behçet’s disease plays a special role. It mainly affects small vessels. In contrast to other vasculitides, any vessel can become inflamed, regardless of its size.

special shapes

A special form of rheumatism is rheumatic fever . Here, too, the immune system attacks its own body cells – but only if an infection with certain bacteria has preceded it. Joints and skin become inflamed about two to three weeks after a streptococcal infection. It becomes particularly dangerous when the heart muscle, pericardium and heart valves become inflamed. The nervous system can also be affected.

Lyme disease occupies a special position. It is also caused by an infection with bacteria (Borrelia) transmitted by ticks. This can lead to joint inflammation, the so-called Lyme arthritis. Unlike rheumatic fever, for example, this is not an autoimmune reaction, but a direct inflammation caused by the pathogen.

Wear-related rheumatic diseases

The most well-known wear and tear disease is joint wear, medically called arthrosis . It occurs more frequently with increasing age. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint. Knee and hip joints are particularly common. At the beginning, supportive measures such as weight loss, muscle building and painkillers usually help against the symptoms. In the end, often only a joint replacement can help.

Some experts also include tendonitis  among the wear-related (degenerative) rheumatic diseases. Typically, a certain overuse, such as intense practice on an instrument, provokes the tendovaginitis. However, it can also arise directly as a result of inflammatory processes, for example in rheumatoid arthritis.

Metabolic disorders with rheumatic complaints
Rheumatism also includes metabolic disorders that are associated with rheumatic symptoms. They mainly cause pain in the joints.

Those affected by taste have an increased concentration of uric acid in their blood. The uric acid can form crystals (“precipitations”) in the joints and cause severe pain. The metatarsophalangeal joint of the big toe is particularly frequently affected. The right diet and certain medications help against high uric acid levels.

Hemochromatosis is a hereditary disease. Due to a genetic defect, too much iron is deposited in certain organs. The consequences are cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, bronzed skin and joint pain. The treatment of choice is bloodletting.

In addition, some experts also include hormonal disorders in rheumatism, for example when those affected have corresponding symptoms such as joint, bone or muscle pain. Rheumatic symptoms occur, for example, with an overactive parathyroid gland (hyperparathyroidism) or the thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism). According to studies, there also seems to be a connection between diabetes and rheumatism.

Rheumatic diseases of soft tissues
Rheumatism can also affect the “soft” body tissue. These primarily include the muscles and tendons. But ligaments, bursae or fatty tissue can also be affected. Typical diseases are:

Fibromyalgia Syndrome
bursitis
Tendon attachment irritation (insertion tendinopathies such as golfer’s elbow , tennis elbow )
Tendonitis (including degenerative rheumatism)
Carpal tunnel syndrome
The term muscular rheumatism has also become popular for muscle pain. In addition, many refer to polymyalgia rheumatica (polymyalgia) and others to fibromyalgia as muscular rheumatism, since both are associated with severe muscle pain. However, muscular rheumatism is not an official clinical picture.

Many also use the term “soft-tissue rheumatism” or “soft-tissue rheumatism” in a similarly vague manner. It is often equated with fibromyalgia syndrome. Affected people – often women – complain about chronic pain in different parts of the body. Rather, soft tissue rheumatism is an umbrella term for all those diseases that affect soft body structures, i.e. not bones, cartilage and joints.

Chronic bone diseases
Chronic bone diseases also belong to the broad area of ​​rheumatism. The leading complaints here are skeletal pain. Sometimes bone deformities or fractures also occur.

Primary osteoporosis is particularly widespread among older women. Due to the changed hormone balance, the bone mass thins out and there is a risk of fractures. However, osteoporosis can also be the result of medication, in particular cortisone (secondary osteoporosis).

The disease osteomalacia, in turn, arises from the fact that the incorporation of calcium and phosphate in the bones is disturbed. In children, the disease is called rickets. It is based on a vitamin D deficiency. In children, this causes, among other things, bone deformities or joint misalignments.

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