What is Rheumatic Disease and Rheumatology?

An estimated 46 million adults suffer from rheumatic diseases in the United States. These are complex autoimmune and inflammatory diseases that cause the immune system to attack and damage the joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, muscles and sometimes involve damage to internal organs. They cause pain, inflammation, life-changing disability and, in severe cases, can cause or contribute to death. There are more than 100 types of rheumatic disease, each with its own range of symptoms. Rheumatic diseases are responsible for 27 percent of all disability among the U.S. population.

Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent form of arthritis, affecting an estimated 27 million adults. It damages cartilage in joints, causing pain and stiffness and results in disability when it affects the spine, knees or hips. Rheumatoid arthritis, affecting approximately 1.3 million people in the U.S., inflames the lining of the body’s joints, resulting in pain, stiffness and swelling, most often of the hands and feet.

Other rheumatic diseases are less well- known by the public, but even more prevalent than some forms of arthritis. One of these is fibromyalgia, estimated to affect 5 million Americans 18 years of age or older. This chronic disorder causes pain throughout the tissues of the muscles that support and move bones and joints. Pain and stiffness occur in the muscles and tendons, especially in the neck, spine, shoulders and hips.

Gout, a type of episodic arthritis caused by needle-like crystals of uric acid deposited in the joints, creates exquisite pain during an attack, which can last for days or weeks. The crystals cause episodic inflammation, swelling, and pain in the affected joint, which is often the big toe. Although not well-known or understood by the public, an estimated 6 million adults age 20 and older have attacks of gout at some point in their lives.

Some individuals are born with a genetic predisposition to get a rheumatic disease, but the disease may not appear until triggered by something else, such as a cold or other virus.  An individual’s gender may make them more susceptible to certain rheumatic diseases.  For instance, statistically, women are more susceptible than men to lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic conditions, while men are more likely than women to contract gout.

Rheumatologists are the experts in the diagnosis and treatment of all the types of these painful and often damaging rheumatic diseases. Highly-trained internists, rheumatologists are board-certified specialists qualified by additional training and experience to quickly diagnose and treat all types of rheumatic disease soon after the onset of symptoms. Treatment early in the disease can dramatically improve the patient’s prognosis and quality of life by preventing joint and organ damage, which in turn improves long-term function and improves the probability of the disease going into remission

Dr. Farah M. Ashraf leads Premier’s Rheumatology Division. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Ashraf please call 845.454.9500