What is Rheumatology?

Rheumatology is a branch of medicine that studies the joints, soft tissues, auto-immune diseases, and heritable connective tissue disorders – collectively known as rheumatic diseases or also musculoskeletal diseases. Rheumatic diseases affect the body joint tendons, muscles, ligaments, and bones and often cause acute joint pain, loss of motion, or swelling in a joint. A person suffering from a rheumatic disease will need to consult a specialist in the field, known as a rheumatologist, who has expertise in rheumatology. Rheumatologists treat diseases similar to that of an orthopaedist but do not perform surgeries, instead, they examine the condition, then likely devise a plan suitable per condition involving medicines, regular exercises, healthy diet, stress management, and rest.

Types of Rheumatic Diseases

Some common rheumatic disorders include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriatic arthritis, spondyloarthropathies, gout, antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, still’s disease, reactive arthritis, scleroderma, Kawasaki disease, infectious arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatic, polychondritis, polymyositis, etc. Rheumatology also involves treating soft tissue and bone problems such as low back pain, tennis or golfer’s elbow, olecranon bursitis, fluorosis, osteoporosis, etc. The rheumatologist also cures genetic disorders affecting the joints.

Causes of Rheumatic Diseases

As of today, more than half the population is affected by rheumatic diseases of a kind or another. These rheumatic diseases occur when the immune system of the body is compromised and instead of preventing attacks, it starts attacking its tissues. This abruption in the immune system can be linked to genetic disorders or other factors such as smoking, passive smoking, pollution, viruses, and infections. Moreover, rheumatic diseases affect more women in general than men. Some of the risk factors that cause rheumatic diseases are:

  • Smoking
  • Overweight
  • Genetic disorders
  • Abuse of joints
  • Increasing age

Symptoms of Rheumatic Diseases

In today’s time, it is essential to be fully aware of the causes, types of rheumatic diseases and when to visit a doctor concerning your issues. Some of the general symptoms that might indicate a rheumatic disease are:

  • Acute and persistent joint pain
  • Tenderness in joints
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint stiffness
  • Joint redness and warmth
  • Joint deformity
  • Loss of function and flexibility in a joint
  • Lack of energy
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Unexplained rash
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Anorexia

While most of the time, joint and muscle pain is neglected as a passing problem, but in cases where the pain does not subside or reduce, a deeper evaluation to know the cause – becomes necessary. Moreover, if you have a family history of rheumatic disorders or the symptoms tend to intensify, one must visit a rheumatologist at the earliest. Ignorance of rheumatic diseases can lead to joint damage in the long run and can also impact the overall immune system, which in turn impacts the other body organs. Rheumatic diseases, if not treated on time can severely impact the quality of one’s life including activities such as walking, climbing stairs, cooking, and hygiene.

While your first visit in case you experience acute joint, muscle, ligament pain is to visit a physician who will then advise you to visit a rheumatologist if there is any possibility of an underlying rheumatic disease.

Expectations from the Rheumatologist Visit

When you visit a rheumatologist, expect to provide all medical and family medical history. You will also be made to take a physical examination to determine the inflammation in the body and musculoskeletal system. All previous test results and diagnosis reports must be kept handy while visiting a rheumatologist. You may also be asked to undergo certain more laboratory tests or get an X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan or MRI done to study the problem in detail.

All of the results combined with the symptoms of the patient and the intensity of the disease, a personalized plan to tackle rheumatology disorder will be formed. This course of treatment will involve physical therapy, medicines, joint injections, exercises, etc. The rheumatologist will also guide you through the process so regaining function, control, and ways to prevent rheumatic diseases. In rare and severe cases, the rheumatologist will suggest surgery to cure rheumatic disease.

Depending on the nature of the illness, response to medication and therapy, the rheumatologist will suggest ongoing treatment or follow-ups.

Prevention of Rheumatic Diseases

While in many cases, rheumatic diseases cannot be prevented, but certain methods, such as below, might help:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoid any passive smoking
  • Switching to a healthy diet
  • Physical exercise of at least 30 minutes
  • Proper nutrition and mineral intake
  • Limit sugar and processed food intake
  • Limited alcohol intake
  • Good sleep
  • Healthy weight
  • Avoid joint injury or abuse

In cases, where detection has been made, it is essential to visit the rheumatologist regularly and seek advice on the course ahead. While a rheumatic disease can be neglected until it causes severe symptoms, it is advisable to stay cautious, be vigilant and take preventive and corrective actions to ensure good joint health.