Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases

Patient describing wrist pain to physical therapist
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Arthritis literally means "joint inflammation." While "arthritis" technically describes a specific symptom associated with rheumatic diseases, the terms "arthritis" and "rheumatic disease" are often used interchangeably. In common speech, you may consider the terms synonymous.

Rheumatic diseases are a group of diseases and conditions that are characterized by inflammation (typically with redness, heat, and swelling) and impaired function of one or more connecting or supporting structures of the body. Primarily, rheumatic diseases affect the joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles. Pain, stiffness, and swelling are common symptoms associated with rheumatic diseases, but there can also be systemic effects with certain conditions (i.e., may affect internal organs).

Also, because of the effect on the joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles, these conditions are also referred to as musculoskeletal diseases. If we want to be literal, using strict accuracy, arthritis is one aspect of the rheumatic diseases which affect the musculoskeletal system.

Who Is Affected?

It is estimated that 52.5 million people in the U.S. have arthritis or one of the rheumatic diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are over 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions. In the U.S., the most common types of arthritis or rheumatic diseases are osteoarthritis, gout, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis—in that order according to prevalence.

Rheumatic diseases affect people of all races and age groups, including about 300,000 children. Certain types of arthritis or rheumatic diseases are more common among certain groups of people. Rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, scleroderma, and lupus are more common among women than men. Gout and spondyloarthropathies are more common among men than women. After menopause, the incidence of gout in women goes up. Lupus is both more common and more severe in African Americans and Hispanics compared to Caucasians.

Various Types of Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases

Ankylosing spondylitis: Primarily characterized by chronic inflammation of the joints and ligaments of the spine, causing pain and stiffness in the spine.

Bursitis: A condition caused by inflammation of a bursa. Bursae are small fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions to reduce friction between bone and other moving parts, such as muscle, tendons, or skin.

Take a look at how bursitis can affect the shoulder.

Enteropathic arthritis: An inflammatory condition that affects the spine, other joints, and commonly occurs with the inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Fibromyalgia: An arthritis-related syndrome primarily characterized by widespread or generalized muscular pain, tender points, fatigue, and other assorted symptoms.

Gout: Characterized by the sudden onset of intense pain, tenderness, warmth, redness, and swelling due to inflammation of an affected joint. Excess uric acid in the body and deposition of uric acid crystals in the affected joint and tissues cause the symptoms.

Take a look at gout in the foot.

Infectious arthritis: Caused by a germ that travels through the body to a joint. The germ can be a bacterium, virus, or fungus.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Arthritis that affects children 16 years old and under. There are seven recognized subtypes.

Mixed connective tissue disease: An autoimmune disease with overlapping characteristics of three connective tissue diseases (systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, and polymyositis).

Osteoarthritis: A degenerative joint disease that is considered the most common type of arthritis. It is caused by the breakdown of cartilage in one or more joints.

Osteoporosis: A disease characterized by progressive bone thinning (i.e., decreased bone density) and consequently a high fracture risk.

Polymyalgia rheumatica: A rheumatic condition characterized by musculoskeletal pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, and hips, lasting at least four weeks.

Polymyositis: Characterized by inflammation and degeneration of the muscles.

Pseudogout: A condition that develops when calcium pyrophosphate crystals accumulate in a joint and the tissues that surround the affected joint. Often mistaken for gout.

Psoriatic arthritis: A rheumatic disease associated with psoriasis and chronic joint symptoms, which can develop separately.

Reactive arthritis: A type of arthritis that occurs as a reaction to an infection somewhere in the body.

Rheumatoid arthritis: A chronic, autoimmune, inflammatory type of arthritis with joint complications and potential systemic effects.

Scleroderma: An autoimmune disease characterized by the abnormal growth of connective tissue which supports the skin and internal organs.

Sjogren's syndrome: An autoimmune, inflammatory disease which can occur as a primary or secondary condition, primarily characterized by dry mouth and dry eyes.

Systemic lupus erythematosus: An autoimmune, inflammatory disease which can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, lungs, heart, nervous system, and other organs of the body.

Tendinitis: A condition caused by inflammation of one or more tendons in the body.

Vasculitis: A condition associated with inflammation of the blood vessels.

A Word From Verywell

The aforementioned types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases are the most well-known, but the list is not exhaustive. There are more and some are quite rare. An early, accurate diagnosis is imperative to managing rheumatic diseases. Treatment options for rheumatic diseases depend on which specific disease or condition you have.

A rheumatologist is a specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and rheumatic diseases. Your diagnosis is based on your medical history, a physical examination, laboratory tests, imaging studies, and in some rare cases, a tissue biopsy. If you suspect you have arthritis or a rheumatic disease based on early symptoms, consult your doctor. Diagnosis can be complicated—some rheumatic diseases may have overlapping symptoms and may mimic another rheumatic disease. You need a rheumatologist to distinguish between the different conditions and set you on the right treatment path. Verywell is happy to provide you with the information you need as you move from symptoms to diagnosis to treatment to successful disease management.

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