The general term rheumatism includes many conditions involving bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons. Various rheumatic conditions result in inflammation, swelling, aching, pain, and stiffness, most often in the joints. The many kinds of rheumatism are difficult to diagnose and usually require extensive laboratory tests for proper identification. Correct diagnosis is very important, since treatments vary with the cause and nature of the disorders. Various kinds of arthritis are the most common causes of rheumatic disease. These include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gout.
We usually associate arthritis with older people, but rheumatoid arthritis, the most serious of the arthritis diseases, frequently appears in young people. In involves swelling, pain, and stiffness of the joints, especially the middles joints of the fingers. There may also be general fatigue and weakness. These symptoms may come and go in recurring attacks lasting for days, weeks, or months. Attacks may be mild or severe. A relatively small number of people recover entirely from rheumatoid arthritis. In a few, the condition becomes steadily worse, finally resulting in joint deformity and crippling.
Various drugs are prescribed to relieve pain and suffering in rheumatoid arthritis. The most effective treatment is a period of rest each day. Alternating with exercise of the joints involved. Rest is important in reducing inflammation, while exercise prevents deformity of the joints.
This form of arthritis most often occurs beyond middle age. Osteoarthritis often causes knobby enlargements of the end and middle joints of the fingers. It may also involve the hips, knees, and spine, all of which are weight-bearing joints. Deformity results from bony swelling, which imparts movement. Inflammation of tissue does not occur, as in rheumatoid arthritis. The cause of osteoarthritis is not known. It seems to be an inherited condition in which cartilage is gradually destroyed and replaced with thickened bony deposits. Treatment consists of special exercise and periods of rest. Weight control is important in dealing with arthritis in weight bearing joints.
This condition is easily confused with other arthritis disorders. It is caused by the crystallization and accumulation of uric acid in certain joints. This causes inflammation, swelling, and severe pain. Contrary to popular belief, gout does not always appear in the big toes. Frequently, the finger joints are involved. Treatment of gout consists of diet regulation, excluding uric-acid-forming foods. Drugs that promote elimination of uric acid may be prescribed.