What is Rheumatology?
Rheumatology is a branch dedicated to the study of disease of the joints, muscles and connective tissues. Just as many causes of fever such as cough, diarrhea, and tuberculosis, there are hundreds of causes for pain and inflammation in the joints.
Rheumatic or muscles – skeletal diseases – in simple terms, have many reasons. The science of finding out the reason and then investigating and treating such conditions is rheumatology. Rheumatology is a relatively new branch. Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia are not even heard of by many people.
Due to lack of knowledge in this field, until recently, patients with rheumatic diseases were treated only with painkillers or steroids. As a result, patients were either mislead, took improper treatment, fell prey to quacks or kept taking toxic over-the-counter medicines.
In the bargain, they suffered many complications and lead a very poor quality of life. However, with proper Rheumatological treatment and care, these patients are leading a healthier, happier and pain-free life.
There are about 200 joints in the body and there are multiple causes for the pain and swelling of joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is a prototype of Rheumatological diseases, affecting a large population. In India approximately 1-2% i.e. millions suffer from this disease.
Though it can affect any age, it targets mainly the prime of life, the young and the middle-aged being largely affected. Women are the most affected. It can be hereditary. It is a long-term disease which causes inflammation of joint and over time, these joints may lose their range of motion, unable to act and eventually cause permanent deformities.
It mainly affects the wrists, fingers, knees, feet, and toes. In extreme situations, patients are unable to do their daily chores of life such as combing hair, buttoning their own clothes, holding onto anything or even moving around. Apart from the extreme pain, they get dependant on others for their daily activities.
In short, life becomes worse than death. No wonder, these patients go into severe depression. With timely diagnosis and rheumatologic treatment, these problems can be prevented and treated. Thus, Rheumatology improves the quality of life of patients suffering from these rheumatologic diseases.
Who is a Rheumatologist?
A Rheumatologist is a medical doctor who is a physician and has then undergone training to specialize in rheumatology. Rheumatologist deals mainly with clinical problems involving joints, soft tissues, autoimmune diseases, vasculitis, and heritable connective tissue disorder.
He is skilled to diagnose, and treat the signs and symptoms properly. Whereas orthopedic deals with surgical problems of bone and joints, rheumatologists treat many of these diseases medically.
What conditions does a Rheumatologist treat?
Arthritis-There are many forms of arthritis, which affects various joints of the body. Rheumatoid Arthritis typically manifests with pain and swelling of the affected joints. The joints and limbs are stiff particularly early in the morning, or walking become painful following prolonged inactivity.
It can be a disabling and painful condition which can lead to substantial loss of function and mobility if not adequately treated. Some other common forms of arthritis are Osteoarthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Gout, and Reactive Arthritis.
Autoimmune diseases-autoimmune diseases are diseases where the body’s immune system fights against itself. It is a situation similar to where a guard kept protecting the property attacks its owner and inflicts damage on him.
Common autoimmune diseases are Lupus (SLE), Dermatomyositis, Polymyositis, Giant Cell Arteritis (Temporal Arteritis), Wegener’s Granulomatosis, Vasculitis, Behcet’s disease, etc.
Soft tissue disease Such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, metabolic muscle diseases, muscle pains, and other related disorders.
Infection of joints.
Osteoporosis- This causes the bones to become brittle and break (fracture) easily. There are multiple causes for this condition, but the result is a fractured bone. Fracture of spine or hip can result from a minor fall or trauma. This can result in severe pain, disability and eventually dependence on others for the activities of daily living.
About 20% of these patients die within a year after a fracture. Whereas an orthopedic surgeon fixes a fractured bone, rheumatologist strengthens the bones to prevent further fractures.
Metabolic bone diseases- Can result from various reasons such as vitamin deficiency, calcium deficiency, parathormone problems, some medications and kidney diseases.
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