Rheumatology 101

Rheumatologists are best known for treating rheumatoid arthritis, but these specialists treat over a hundred diseases involving the joints and connective tissues. These range from wear-and-tear arthritis to joint problems caused by infection, crystal diseases such as gout, and others are autoimmune diseases, where the body’s immune system attacks other parts of the body.

Rheumatic diseases are chronic, so rheumatologists aim to manage the symptoms over time, preventing further damage, and helping their patients live the best quality of life. They detect signs and symptoms of the disease early, because the sooner a rheumatic disease is diagnosed, the better chance the patient has. Rheumatologists are usually internists or pediatricians who completed a rheumatology fellowship. They specialize in rheumatology, are board-certified, and work with a team of health care professionals who care for the overall well-being of their patients.

Over 48 million Americans have some sort of rheumatic disease. Here are a few of them:

  • Fibromyalgia: predominantly affects women and attacks the muscles and tendons that support their joints, causing stiffness, pain, and sleep disturbances
  • Gout: caused by uric acid crystals in the joints, particularly the big toe, creates episodes of pain and swelling
  • Infectious arthritis: caused by viral or bacterial infections, such as Lyme disease, where a bacteria-carrying tick causes inflammation, pain, and stiffness
  • Juvenile arthritis: also known as pediatric rheumatic disease, is an umbrella term used to describe the many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions or pediatric rheumatic diseases that can develop in children ages 16 and younger
  • Lupus: an autoimmune disease mainly affecting women, which attacks the body’s own cells and tissues, causing damage to joints and organs
  • Osteoarthritis: caused by aging joints, injury, and obesity, is the most common type of arthritis. Symptoms include joint pain and stiffness. It affects 27 million adults in the United States
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: nearly 1.3 million people have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which destroys the lining of joints, eventually eroding the bone, causing swelling, pain, and stiffness
  • Scleroderma: literally meaning “hard skin,” is a condition where the body produces too much collagen; it affects the blood vessels and joints as well
  • Vasculitis: a condition that involves inflammation in the blood vessels. It occurs if your immune system attacks your blood vessels by mistake