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Rheumatology is a sub-specialty of internal medicine or pediatrics devoted to the diagnosis and management of arthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases or systemic autoimmune conditions. Known as “rheumatic diseases,” these diseases and conditions are generally related to the joints, soft-tissue, and connective tissue of the body.

Community Memorial’s board certified rheumatologists diagnose, treat and manage a variety of rheumatic conditions including:

  • Complex auto-immune disease
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gout
  • Infectious arthritis
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR)
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Scleroderma
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

What Causes Rheumatic Disease?

Rheumatic disease occurs when your immune system attacks your own tissues, causing inflammation, swelling, stiffness, and pain. While physicians and scientists still don’t know the exact cause, they have started to better understand what triggers these diseases. Sometimes the trigger of a rheumatic condition is genetic, and other times it’s triggered by environmental conditions such as temperature, smoke, or pollution. Gender is also a factor, as more women are affected than men.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms of a rheumatic disease, your primary care doctor may refer to you a rheumatologist for evaluation and treatment. Depending on the type of rheumatic condition your rheumatologist suspects, he or she may order one or more of the following tests to inform your diagnosis:

  • X-ray
  • MRI
  • Joint fluid test
  • Blood test
  • Tissue biopsy

Many rheumatic diseases are chronic conditions that have no cure, but with the help of a rheumatologist, many patients can effectively manage their symptoms and achieve a good quality of life. There are a number of short- and long-term ways to manage symptoms.

Short-term Relief

Medications: Short-term relief from pain and inflammation can be achieved through the use of over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

Hot & Cold Therapy: Temporary relief from pain can be achieved through the use of moist heat (warm bath or shower) or dry heat (heating pad). An ice pack placed carefully on the affected area may also produce relief and decrease swelling. Ice/cold therapy is not recommended for people with circulation problems, and you should be sure to consult you rheumatologist before using any kind of hot or cold therapy.

Joint Immobilization: Splints and braces can help immobilize an affected joint, allowing it to rest and helping to reduce pain and inflammation. Walking devices such as canes, walkers, and crutches can also take the pressure off effected joints.

Massage: Massage of painful joints and/or muscles increases blood flow and bring warmth and relief to the area.

Long-term Relief

Prescription Medications: There are several types of medicine your physician can prescribe on a long-term basis to help with pain and other symptoms caused by rheumatic disease:

  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic medications (DMARDs) such as methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, and penicillamine.
  • Corticosteroids such as prednisone
  • Biologics such as etanercept (Enbrel), golimumab (Simponi), infliximab (Remicade), adalimumab (Humira), anakinra (Kineret), rituximab (Rituxan), and abatacept (Orencia).

Weight Reduction: Unnecessary weight puts extra pressure on joints. Weight loss in overweight patients has been shown to reduce the symptoms of rheumatic disease as well as the chances of developing one.

Exercise: Low-impact exercise such as swimming, water aerobics, walking, and stretching may help reduce joint pain and stiffness and keep the joints flexible.

Surgery: In severe cases of rheumatic disease, joint replacement or repair surgery may be necessary to reduce pain and restore mobility.

Community Memorial’s rheumatologists will work with you to develop a disease management plan based on the severity of your disease, as well as the frequency and intensity of your symptoms.