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If you thought rheumatism and arthritis were the same thing, you’re in good company! Millions of people aren’t aware that there IS a difference let alone what it could be.

But we hate ignorance around here! Let’s clear this up.

Rheumatism: What is it? Who has it? And, how is it treated?

First, it’s important to note that several diseases are classified under the umbrella of rheumatic disorders. They include those affecting muscles, joints, and bones. Unfortunately, rheumatic disorders are all too common and have a massive impact on the population’s health worldwide. And some countries use the word Rheumatism to describe fibromyalgia syndrome. The term “rheumatism” was used in historical contexts when referring to the vast and vague range of inflammatory joint disorders. . However, it’s not really used in medical literature anymore.

The more severe conditions lead to inflammatory rheumatic diseases that cause joint and organ destruction. These are a leading cause of severe pain, disability, and even death affecting the quality of life and leading to several comorbidities or associated ailments.

It takes a trained and specialized rheumatologist to diagnose and treat people with rheumatic diseases. They treat over 100 rheumatic diseases and arthritis forms, including inflammatory rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and gout.

 Rheumatism presents itself in two ways:

  • Articular — affects joints that commonly include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, spondylitis, etc.
  • Non-articular — affects soft tissues and muscles and leads to regional pain syndromes.

As most of the population ages, they develop joint stiffness and pain.

Once upon a time, the aches and pains labeled as “Rheumatism” were thought to be a normal part of aging. However, many cases termed Rheumatism were cases of osteoarthritis, not rheumatoid arthritis or any of the inflammatory disorders.

The disorders under the rheumatic umbrella include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, scleroderma, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, spondylarthritides, polymyalgia rheumatic, and systemic vasculitis like giant cell arteritis

Symptoms include intense joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and fatigue experienced in middle age, which can severely affect the quality of life and work. 

Inflammatory rheumatic disorders affect over 7 million Americans, with 1.3 million adults having rheumatoid arthritis.

According to U.S. statistics, between 161,000 and 322,000 adults have lupus. In addition, women are 2 to 3 times (4-5 times below the age of 50) more likely to suffer from rheumatoid disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and 10 times more likely to develop lupus than men. 

And unfortunately, nearly 300,000 American children suffer from rheumatic diseases, the most common of which is juvenile idiopathic arthritis or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA).

Estimates suggest that one child in every 1,000 will develop some form of rheumatic disease, and 8.4% of women and 5% of men during their lifetime will develop some form of rheumatic disease.

The main treatment goals with rheumatoid arthritis are to control inflammation which will ease pain, and ultimately reduce disability linked to RA.

Treatment usually includes medications, occupational or physical therapy, and exercise. Some people need surgery to correct joint damage. Early treatment is key to good results. And with today’s treatments, joint damage can often be slowed or stopped, according to WebMD.

Sadly, Rheumatic disorders aren’t going away any time soon, and despite aggressive guidelines, one particular demographic is still undermedicated and undertreated. 

But we’ll get into that next week.