Rheumatism: check causes, types, treatments and if there is a cure

According to the Ministry of Health, about 12 million Brazilians have some rheumatic disease, also called rheumatism. The most common are: osteoarthritis , lupus , rheumatoid arthritis , fibromyalgia , bursitis , tendonitis and osteoporosis .

They can affect anyone, regardless of gender or age. It is true that striving to maintain good health can help, but genetic or circumstantial factors can interfere.

Thinking about the wide scope of rheumatism, we will understand better what it is, its symptoms, causes, treatments and more:

What is rheumatism?

Contrary to what many people think, rheumatism is not a single disease. It is, in fact, a general term to characterize a set of more than 100 diseases that affect the various fluids that make up the human body (joint fluid, blood, etc.).

Consequently, some systems are compromised, mainly the joints, cartilage, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons.

However, there are also cases in which some of these diseases are related to the immune system, metabolic disorders or neoplastic changes ( cancer ). In these situations, they affect other parts of the body – such as the heart, respiratory or gastrointestinal system, skin, among others.

Considering that rheumatism encompasses a very large number of diseases, it is of even greater importance to find out what type, in order to carry out a correct treatment. For this, it is necessary to seek rheumatology professionals to obtain a diagnosis.

What are the types of rheumatism?

There are a huge number of pathologies that fit as rheumatic, although similar, have unique characteristics. The types of rheumatism are very different: in blood, bones, muscle, children, among others.

With that in mind, we’ve separated more information on some of the more common ones. Check out:

Blood rheumatism

Blood rheumatism, or rheumatic fever , is one of the cases in which the disease is associated with the immune system. It is an autoimmune reaction of the body after bacterial infections (mainly throat).

It is important to know that not all people are likely to have rheumatism in their blood after infections, only those who already have a genetic predisposition.

Basically, what happens is that the defense cells, when trying to fight the infection in question, also start to attack the joints, the heart and the central nervous system. This is due to the structural similarity between tissues in these areas and those of bacteria.

Considering that the origin of rheumatic fever is known, the ideal is to prevent it. That is, when symptoms of infection appear (fever, pain, etc.), you should see a doctor as soon as possible.

In this way, it will be possible to treat the infection correctly and, thus, the chance of presenting rheumatism in the blood is eliminated.

The first symptoms of this disease are usually (70% of cases) pain and inflammation in the joints of the lower limbs, causing swelling and increased temperature. In 50% of cases the disease also affects the heart, damaging the tissues that cover the valves – which causes tiredness , heart failure or tachycardia.

There are more rare cases where inflammation can reach the brain, causing involuntary movements and other possible complications.

This pathology affects, above all, people between 5 and 15 years old. From the age of 20 it is rare and it is even more difficult for a first outbreak of the disease to happen in an adult.

Muscle rheumatism

Muscular rheumatism, or soft tissue rheumatism, is when injuries or inflammation of the structures around the joints occur. That is, muscles, ligaments, bursae, enthesis and tendons.

In this case, inflammations are usually easily treated and present temporary symptoms, not being a frequent pain as in the case of other diseases. However, they remain a chronic pathology.

Therefore, the symptoms may disappear and come back suddenly, being more common that they appear when undue or extreme muscle strain is performed.

The most common types of muscle rheumatism are bursitis and tendonitis . The causes are, in general, associated with the so-called “repetitive movement”. That is, when muscles or tendons are constantly subjected to the same function or to some addiction (such as incorrect posture).

Unlike other types, it is quite rare that any of these diseases cause deformities. However, this does not alter the importance of undergoing treatment and medical follow-up.

Rheumatism in the bones

Bone rheumatism is one of the most common manifestations of this disorder. It is usually associated with aging. This is because, over time, it is usual for gradual stiffening of the joints to occur.

As a result, bone wear also becomes greater, which causes pain and, after a period of time, generates movement limitations.

Although more common in old age, younger people can also suffer from the disease early. In these situations, the cause is usually associated with circumstantial factors, such as – for example – the excessive use of joints in a given profession.

Among the diseases characterized as a form of rheumatism in the bones, the most recurrent are: osteoarthritis (arthrosis), lupus, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.

Infantile rheumatism

The vast majority of people imagine that rheumatic diseases are associated only with adults. This is not true. Although more rare, there are many cases of rheumatism in children.

The symptoms that small children may have are similar to those of adults: like pain and stiffness in the joints. However, in the case of children, inflammations can compromise development and lead to permanent damage and limitations.

As previously mentioned, rheumatic fever (rheumatism in the blood) is the most common type in children, since it mainly affects people between 5 and 15 years old.

But cases of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, vasculitis, scleroderma, lupus, among others, are still common. The causes can be related to incorrect posture, infections and – mainly – hereditary (genetic) issues.

As in other cases of rheumatism, it is essential to seek guidance from specialists since the onset of the first symptoms, in order to avoid major future problems.

What is the difference between arthritis and rheumatism?

As mentioned, rheumatism itself is not a pathology. It is, in fact, a group with more than 100 diseases.

Among these is arthritis – so it is a type of rheumatism. This pathology is characterized by inflammation in the joint, which can be caused by old age, external factors (such as premature wear and tear caused by excessive / improper use of the joints) or by genetic issues.

Although arthritis is part of a set of diseases (rheumatism), it can also be divided into groups, considering that there is more than one subtype of the disease. The most recurrent is rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes defense cells to attack healthy body tissues by mistake.

What are the causes of rheumatism?

Rheumatic diseases are not caused by trauma, that is, they do not occur due to accidents or injuries.

Analyzing this large group of diseases, the most common causes are two: autoimmune issues and tissue / organ wear and tear.

When caused by problems in the immune system, rheumatism is characterized by an attack that healthy tissues suffer by mistake. That is, the defense cells fail and start attacking the organism itself.

Wear and tear can occur in joints, organs, cartilage and tissues in general. They are usually associated with old age or with the wrong or excessive use of joints – for example, professions that require a lot of physical effort or repetitive movements can cause early wear and tear.

Finally, the causes of rheumatism are often related to hereditary or genetic factors.

What are the symptoms of rheumatism?

The symptoms of rheumatic diseases are usually quite clear and can be noticed by the patient himself / herself in the first days. Some examples are:

  • Joint pain (over a long period of time);
  • Redness, heat or swelling in the joints;
  • Difficulty beyond normal to move the joints upon waking;
  • Pain in the muscles near joints;
  • Fever;
  • Widespread tiredness;
  • Stiffness in joints in general (as if they are “rusty”).

It is important to keep in mind that these are recurrent symptoms between different types of rheumatism. However, they are chronic diseases that only show symptoms when they are “active” or in a more advanced stage.

Thus, it is worth noting that the person may have a rheumatic disease but that he has not yet presented symptoms because he is in an early stage. This reinforces the need for periodic medical check-ups .

How is the pain of rheumatism?

Rheumatic diseases have pain in common. Despite different causes and types of pathology, rheumatism is easily identified by stiffness in the joints due to inflammation.

This stiffness is what causes pain – which can manifest itself more intensely in the morning, but in general it is chronic and frequent.

That is, the pain of rheumatism does not necessarily appear only when sudden movements or effort are made. It is a constant pain in the joints and it is present even in moments of rest.

How do I know if I have rheumatism?

If you have one or more symptoms of rheumatism, see a specialist. The doctors who treat these diseases are rheumatology professionals .

The diagnosis is made through clinical consultation and can be confirmed by means of x-ray , magnetic resonance and even blood tests (complete blood count ).

Is rheumatism curable?

No . Considering that the main causes of rheumatism are genetic factors or joint wear and tear, it is easier to understand why rheumatic diseases cannot be cured.

The main reason is because they are irreversible issues. That is, there is no way to change something that is genetically linked to a human being, just as there are no 100% effective ways to reverse wear and tear on joints, cartilage, organs and other tissues.

However, an early diagnosis of the disease can prevent an evolution of the disease, as well as injuries or limitations caused by rheumatism. In some cases, it is even possible that the disease is asymptomatic (does not show symptoms) for a period of time.

In addition, there are currently different treatments that are able to provide a normal life for patients.

How to treat rheumatism?

The care of patients with rheumatism can vary widely. Treatment is based on the type of disease in question and its stage of evolution.

At first, it is quite common for the doctor to prescribe anti-inflammatories, analgesics, corticosteroids and inflammation modulators. These are drugs that inhibit the production of cytokines – substances that are part of the inflammatory process.

Thus, these remedies can help control the disease, since by inhibiting these substances, they also prevent the progression of rheumatism.

In some specific cases, when the disease is related to problems in the immune system, immunosuppressants (substances that reduce the action of defense cells) may be indicated.

These drugs are usually used to treat cancer, so in the case of rheumatism very low doses are administered.

When there is no good response to common treatments, the medical team can indicate more invasive options, such as intra-articular infiltration (injection with anti-inflammatory applied directly to the joint) or even surgery.

It is essential to correctly carry out the treatment of rheumatic diseases, in order to maintain the quality of life and avoid limitations that may be irreversible. In addition, medical monitoring is also essential.

What are the remedies for rheumatism?

As mentioned, there are different classes of remedies that can be used in the treatment of rheumatism. Here are some examples:

  • Anti-inflammatories – Ibuprofen, Aspirin , Diclofenac ;
  • Analgesics – Dipyrone , Paracetamol ;
  • Corticosteroides — Betametasona, Prednisolona;
  • Immunosuppressants – Cyclosporine , Azathioprine .

Remember that self-medication is not recommended in any case. Always seek guidance from trained professionals in order to carry out a safe and effective treatment.

Thousands of people suffer annually from rheumatic diseases. Some only discover it late, when they are already with deformities or limitations caused by the disease, others perform the treatment early and are able to control the evolution.

If you have one or more symptoms, it is very important to get a doctor as soon as possible in order to receive a correct diagnosis.

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