What is Rheumatism?

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There are several diseases that are classified under rheumatic disorders. The term rheumatism is a loosely used layperson term to describe rheumatoid arthritis.

The rheumatoid disorders include those affecting muscles, joints and bones. They are common and have a huge impact on the health of a vast population worldwide.

The more severe conditions lead to inflammatory rheumatic diseases that causes 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.

Who diagnoses and treats rheumatic diseases?

People afflicted with rheumatic diseases are diagnosed and treated by rheumatologists who are trained in this field.

Rheumatologists treat over 100 forms of rheumatic diseases and arthritis that includes major proportions of inflammatory rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and gout.

The term ‘rheumatism’

The term rheumatism was used in historical contexts when referring to any of the vast array of inflammatory joint disorders. It is no longer used in medical literature as such and the diseases that are listed under rheumatoid disorders may be enumerated under rheumatism.

Some countries use the word Rheumatism to describe fibromyalgia syndrome. Rheumatism thus has two forms:-

  • articular or the one affecting joints that commonly includes rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, spondylitis etc.
  • non-articular or the ones that affect soft tissues, muscles and lead to regional pain syndromes

There was a time when the aches and pains termed rheumatism was a normal part of aging.

Most of the population as they age develop joint stiffness and pain. Many of the cases that were termed rheumatism were actually cases of osteoarthritis and not rheumatoid arthritis or any of the inflammatory disorders at all.

What disorders are classed as rheumatoid disorders?

Rheumatoid disorders do not include osteoarthritis. Some of the disorders included are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, scleroderma, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, spondylarthritides, polymyalgia rheumatic, systemic vasculitis like giant cell arteritis etc.

Symptoms of inflammatory joint disorders

Inflammatory joint disorders involve intense joint pain, swelling, stiffness and fatigue experienced when the person is middle aged.

This severely affects working capacity and functioning involving building and sustaining careers, child-rearing and essential daily activities.

How many people does rheumatism affect?

Inflammatory rheumatic disorders affect over 7 million Americans and of these 1.3 million adults have rheumatoid arthritis.

In Europe more than 100 million people are affected by rheumatic diseases. This is almost one quarter of the whole population.

It is seen from US statistics that that between 161,000 and 322,000 adults have lupus and 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% women and 5% men during their lifetime will develop some form of rheumatic disease.

Women are 2 to 3 times more likely to suffer from rheumatoid disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and 10 times more likely to develop lupus than men. Females in Europe account for 60 percent of diagnosed cases.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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  1. Afifah Othman Afifah Othman Malaysia says:

    What if the patient is a 16 yrs old boy?? Is it likely?

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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