Rheumatologists treat autoimmune disease. A properly functioning immune system serves the body by fighting off “foreign invaders” that have the potential to cause illness and disease. In autoimmune diseases, however, the immune system mistakenly detects normal body functions as foreign and attacks them. There are over 100 different types of autoimmune diseases, some of the most common are discussed below.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis. RA causes pain and swelling in the wrist and small joints of the hand and feet. Treatments for RA can stop joint pain and swelling. Treatment also prevents joint damage. Early treatment will give better long term results. Regular low-impact exercises, such as walking, and exercises can increase muscle strength. This will improve your overall health and lower pressure on your joints. Studies show that people who receive early treatment for RA feel better sooner and more often, and are more likely to lead an active life. They also are less likely to have the type of joint damage that leads to joint replacement.
Systemic lupus erythematosus, referred to as SLE or lupus, is a chronic (long-term) disease that causes systemic inflammation which affects multiple organs. In addition to affecting the skin and joints, it can affect other organs in the body such as the kidneys, the tissue lining the lungs (pleura), heart (pericardium), and brain. Many patients experience fatigue, weight loss, and fever. Lupus flares vary from mild to serious. Most patients have times when the disease is active, followed by times when the disease is mostly quiet – referred to as a remission.
Psoriatic arthritis typically occurs in people with skin psoriasis, but it can occur in people without skin psoriasis, particularly in those who have relatives with psoriasis.
Psoriatic arthritis typically affects the large joints, especially those of the lower extremities, distal joints of the fingers and toes, and also can affect the back and sacroiliac joints of the pelvis.
For most people, appropriate treatments will relieve pain, protect the joints, and maintain mobility. Physical activity helps maintain joint movement.
Polymyalgia rheumatica (sometimes referred to as PMR) is a common cause of widespread aching and stiffness that affects adults over the age of 50, especially Caucasians. Because polymyalgia rheumatica does not often cause swollen joints, it may be hard to recognize. It may occur with another health problem, giant cell arteritis.
The average age when symptoms start is 70, so people who have PMR may be in their 80s or even older. The disease affects women somewhat more often than men. It is more frequent in whites than nonwhites, but all races can get PMR.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease affecting the skin and other organs of the body, meaning that the body’s immune system is causing inflammation and other abnormalities in these tissues. The main finding in scleroderma is thickening and tightening of the skin and inflammation and scarring of many body parts, leading to problems in the lungs, kidneys, heart, intestinal system and other areas. There is still no cure for scleroderma, but effective treatments for some forms of the disease are available.
Gout is a painful and potentially disabling form of arthritis that has been around since ancient times. It is sometimes referred to as the “disease of kings,” because people long have incorrectly linked it to the kind of overindulgence in food and wine only the rich and powerful could afford. In fact, gout can affect anyone, and its risk factors vary. the first symptoms usually are intense episodes of painful swelling in single joints, most often in the feet, especially the big toe. The swollen site may be red and warm. Fifty percent of first episodes occur in the big toe, but any joint can be involved. Fortunately, it is possible to treat gout and reduce its very painful attacks by avoiding food and medication triggers and by taking medicines that can help. However, diagnosing gout can be hard, and treatment plans often must be tailored for each person.
Osteoporosis is a common condition. Bone is living tissue that is in a constant state of regeneration. The body removes old bone (called bone resorption) and replaces it with new bone (bone formation). By their mid-30s, most people begin to slowly lose more bone than can be replaced. As a result, bones become thinner and weaker in structure. This accelerates in women at the time of the menopause. In men bone lost usually becomes more of an issue around age 70. Osteoporosis is silent because there are no symptoms (what you feel). Sometimes you might notice height lost by noticing your clothes are not fitting right. Other times it may come to your attention only after you break a bone. When you have this condition, a fracture can occur even after a minor injury, such as a fall. The most common fractures occur at the spine, wrist and hip. Spine and hip fractures, in particular, may lead to chronic (long-term) pain and disability, and even death. The main goal of treating osteoporosis is to prevent such fractures in the first place. Because Osteoporosis is silent, the bone density test, or DEXA, has become of major importance. The DEXA scan can tell you if your bone is becoming osteoporotic.
Fibromyalgia is a common neurologic health problem that causes widespread pain and tenderness (sensitivity to touch). The pain and tenderness tend to come and go, and move about the body. Most often, people with this chronic (long-term) illness are fatigued (very tired) and have sleep problems. The diagnosis can be made with a careful examination. Fibromyalgia is most common in women, though it can occur in men. It most often starts in middle adulthood, but can occur in the teen years and in old age. You are at higher risk for fibromyalgia if you have a rheumatic disease (health problem that affects the joints, muscles and bones). These include osteoarthritis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or ankylosing spondylitis.
Spondyloarthritis (or spondyloarthropathy) is the name for a family of inflammatory rheumatic diseases that cause arthritis. It differs from other types of arthritis, because it involves the sites are where ligaments and tendons attach to bones called “entheses.” Symptoms present in two main ways. The first is inflammation causing pain and stiffness, most often of the spine. Some forms can affect the hands and feet or arms and legs. The second type is bone destruction causing deformities of the spine and poor function of the shoulders and hips.