Do you have questions about Rheumatic Disease?
If you or someone you know has a rheumatic disease, you probably have questions. See frequently asked questions about rheumatic disease.
Rheumatic diseases are often lumped under the term arthritis, which describes over 100 diseases. Under this umbrella there are more than 30 inflammatory rheumatic diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, scleroderma, juvenile arthritis and more.
With rheumatic diseases, patients develop deformities so severe that simple tasks, such as walking, brushing your hair or getting dressed in the morning become difficult and sometimes impossible.
Some common symptoms of rheumatic disease include:
- Swelling in one or more joints. For instance, this might be your wrist, elbow, or knee, or one of the smaller joints in the hands or feet.
- Stiffness around your joints that lasts for at least 1 hour, starting in the early morning.
- Joint pain or tenderness. This pain may come and go, or hurt all the time.
- Inflammation. Your joint can look red or feel warm to the touch.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, discuss them with your doctor and ask whether you should see a rheumatologist.
Just as you would go to an oncologist to treat cancer, it is critical to go to a rheumatologist to receive the best total care for a rheumatic disease.
Rheumatologists have a deep understanding of the physical, mental, economic and societal impacts of rheumatic diseases and are skilled at recognizing and treating the wide array of rheumatic disease symptoms that can affect almost any organ in the body.
The first weeks and months following the onset of rheumatic disease symptoms are known as the “window of opportunity,” and it’s crucial that patients get appropriate treatment in that time period to avoid long-term complications.
Treatment early in the disease — even within the first 12 weeks for some patients— can prevent damage to joints and other organs, improve long-term function, and increase the likelihood of achieving disease remission.
If left untreated, rheumatic diseases cause progressive damage to affected organs and joints. Substantial research demonstrates that early and aggressive treatment significantly improves patient outcomes.
A recent study shows that patients who receive treatment within 12 weeks of disease onset report nearly 30 percent less pain after 36 months than those patients who receive treatment after 12 weeks.
Rheumatic diseases also strike children and they carry the same destructive blow to a child’s health and well-being as they do to an adult’s. In fact, hundreds of thousands of American children live with rheumatic diseases. It is estimated that one child in every 1,000 will develop some form of rheumatic disease.
Another misconception about rheumatic diseases is that they solely impact women. While women and minorities are disproportionately affected, five percent of men in the U.S. will develop a rheumatic disease during their lifetime. Men are far more likely than women to receive the diagnosis of gout.
Arthritis care could also benefit from investment in medical research. More federal funding for the National Institutes of Health and specifically for arthritis research is needed to understand these diseases and fast track new treatments and therapies.
To learn more about current care challenges and ways to advocate, visit our Action Center.