Often grouped under the term “arthritis,” rheumatic diseases are autoimmune and inflammatory diseases that cause your immune system to attack your joints, muscles, bones, and organs.
Rheumatic diseases, including most forms of arthritis and spondyloarthropathies (inflammatory spinal conditions), are usually painful, chronic, and progressive, which means they get worse over time.
Early diagnosis and treatment can slow the progression of many rheumatic diseases.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), there are more than 100 rheumatic diseases. (1)
Among the most common rheumatic diseases are:
- Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) AS is a common type of spondyloarthritis (a type of arthritis arthritis that attacks the spine, and in some people, the joints of the arms and legs, according to the American College of Rheumatology. (2) Nonradiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpA) is a related condition in which the disease causes symptoms including lower back pain but unlike ankylosing spondyloarthritis, there is no visible damage on X-rays, notes CreakyJoints. (3)
- Fibromylagia Fibromyalgia is a rheumatic disorder known for causing widespread pain, sleep problems, fatigue, and problems with memory or concentration, per the Mayo Clinic. (4)
- Gout Gout is a form of arthritis characterized by the accumulation of urate crystals in a joint — often the large joint of your big toe — causing swelling and pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. (5)
- Infectious Arthritis A sudden and painful form of arthritis brought on by a viral or bacterial infection, infectious arthritis can quickly and permanently damage joints. (6,7)
- Lupus Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs, causing damage to joints and organs, per the Mayo Clinic. (8)
- Osteoarthritis (OA) The most common form of arthritis, OA is an age-related disease that destroys cartilage and bone, causing pain and in some cases disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (9)
- Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) An inflammatory type of arthritis affecting some people who have psoriasis, PsA primarily affects the skin and joints, notes the Arthritis Foundation. (10)
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) RA is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues, causing painful swelling, according to the Arthritis Foundation. (11)
Causes and Risk Factors of Rheumatic Diseases
Experts don’t know what causes most types of rheumatic disease, However Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that researchers believe some or all of the following may play a role, depending on the type of rheumatic disease: (13)
- Genes and family history
- Environmental triggers
- Lifestyle choices
- Metabolic problems
- Wear and tear or stress on a joint or joints
Genetics are thought to play a role in the development of ankylosing spondylitis, fibromyalgia, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. (2,4,8,11)
How Are Rheumatic Diseases Diagnosed?
In general, no single test can diagnose a rheumatic disease. Your doctor will want to discuss your symptoms and examine you to check for visible signs of swelling, stiffness, or redness in your joints. If your doctor suspects you have some kind of rheumatic disease, she will order one or more lab tests to help rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
Blood tests can help detect markers of inflammation, antibodies associated with certain diseases, and abnormal organ function, among other things. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, or ultrasounds of your joints and bones can help detect inflammation and fluid buildup and reveal bone or joint changes.
Some rheumatic diseases, such as Lyme disease, lupus, and fibromyalgia, are difficult to diagnose, in part because their symptoms overlap with other conditions.
Learn More About Rheumatic Diseases Diagnosis
Prognosis of Rheumatic Diseases
Prognosis varies depending on the type of rheumatic disease.
In some cases of ankylosing spondylitis, treatment results in disease remission, notes CreakyJoints. (14)
There is no cure for fibromyalgia but it isn't a progressive disease, which means it won’t steadily worsen over time and treatments may help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life, according to the National Institutes of Health. (15)
Unlike other types of arthritis, infectious arthritis is usually not a long-term illness and it’s generally curable. (6)
Lupus is chronic but most people don’t experience symptoms continuously, and according to the Lupus Foundation of America, with close follow-up and treatment, 80 to 90 percent of persons with lupus can expect to live a normal life span. (16)
Related: Why Is It So Hard to Find a Rheumatologist?
Duration of Rheumatic Diseases
Some rheumatic diseases are chronic or lifelong, including ankylosing spondylitis, osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Other diseases last for a much shorter period of time, especially if treated promptly and properly. For example, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), most cases of Lyme disease can be cured with oral antibiotics in three to four weeks. (17)
Recovery from an untreated attack of acute gout can take one to two weeks. With proper treatment, patients are less likely to experience painful flare-ups, which otherwise might occur several times a year, notes Johns Hopkins Medicine. (18)
Rheumatic arthritis is both progressive and chronic. Damage to the joint bones typically occurs within the first two years. And the earlier you are diagnosed and the sooner treatment starts, the better the long-term outcome. In fact, research published in October 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that current treatments when given early on can prevent joint damage in up to 90 percent of people with RA. (19)
Related: Why Is Early Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment So Important?
Prevention of Rheumatic Diseases
There are no known ways to prevent certain rheumatic diseases, including ankylosing spondylitis, fibromyalgia, gout, infectious arthritis, Lyme disease, lupus, psoriatic arthritis, and rheumatic arthritis.
However, in some cases, avoiding or reducing certain triggers can help prevent flares. For lupus, this means avoiding common triggers, such as stress, infections, certain medications, or sunlight, per the Lupus Foundation of America. (26)
For gout, it may help to avoid diuretics (used in treating high blood pressure), drinking alcohol, or consuming foods or drinks high in fructose (like soda) or too many purine-rich foods (such as red meat, muscles, scallops or tuna), notes the CDC. (27)
Research and Statistics: How Many People Have Rheumatic Diseases?
According to the American College of Rheumatology, an estimated 54 million adults in the United States of all ages and genders are currently living with a rheumatic disease. (30)
One in 4 adults have arthritis, according to the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). In fact, it is the leading cause of work disability, with eight million working-age adults reporting that their ability to work is limited because of their arthritis. And 24 million adults are limited in their activities from arthritis, with more than 1 in 4 adults reporting severe joint pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. (31)
Data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) estimates that up to 1 percent of adults in the United States may have spondyloarthritis, including ankylosing spondylitis. (32)
Gout is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis among men. It is estimated to affect about 9.2 million adults in the United States. (33,34)
About 6 percent of men in the United States, and about 2 percent of women have gout. Gout is rare in children and young adults and most women who have it don't develop it until after menopause.
The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans have a form of Lupus. And 9 out of 10 people with lupus are women. Most people with Lupus develop the disease between the ages of 15 and 44. (35)
According to the CDC, osteoarthritis affects over 32.5 million U.S. adults. The risk increases with age, and women are more likely to develop OA than men, especially after age 50. (9)
Psoriatic arthritis affects about 1.5 million people in the United States. The condition usually affects those between the ages of 30 and 50, but it can start at any age. About 30 percent of those with psoriasis will go on to develop psoriatic arthritis. Most people develop psoriasis first and then develop psoriatic arthritis about 10 to 20 years later, notes the National Library of Medicine. (36,37)
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 1.3 million adults in the United States are affected by rheumatoid arthritis, and the disease is 2 to 3 times more common in women than in men. (38)
Related Conditions and Causes of Rheumatic Diseases
About 10 percent of people with ankylosing spondylitis also have a form of inflammatory bowel disease, according to the Spondylitis Association of America. Inflammatory bowel disease includes both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. (40)
Lupus typically occurs alone. However, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, some people with lupus experience symptoms typical of one or more other connective tissue diseases such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune thyroid disease. (41)
According to the Arthritis Foundation, 20 to 30 percent of rheumatoid arthritis patients will eventually develop an RA-related lung disease, such as interstitial lung disease (ILD), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or asthma. (42)
In addition, osteoporosis, anxiety, and depression are common in people with RA, notes the Mayo Clinic. (43)
American College of Rheumatology
On this organization’s website, you can learn about common rheumatic diseases and conditions and treatments. Their Simple Tasks campaign and its site offer a forum for patients to share their experiences dealing with rheumatic disease.
This organization works to empower arthritis patients through supporting research and advocacy. On their site, you can find valuable information about new treatments, drugs, and healthy living.
A digital community offering arthritis patients and caregivers support, updated articles and patient guidelines among other resources.
Lupus Foundation of America
A great resource for learning more about this complex and unpredictable disease.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
On the NIAMS website, you can find detailed and helpful information about many forms of arthritis and rheumatic diseases.
Spondylitis Association of America
On this organization's site you can find helpful information about diagnosis and treatment, opportunities to join clinical trials and support groups. You can also use their Rheumatology Directory to find a specialist in your area.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. April 2017.
- Spondyloarthritis. American College of Rheumatology. March 2019.
- Non-Radiographic Axial Spondyloarthritis: What Is It, and How Is It Treated? CreakyJoints. February 8, 2019.
- Fibromyalgia: Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. August 11, 2017.
- Gout: Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. March 1, 2019.
- Infectious Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation.
- Lyme Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 16, 2019.
- Lupus: Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. October 25, 2017.
- Osteoarthritis (OA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 27, 2020.
- Psoriatic Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 27, 2020.
- Lyme Disease: Signs and Symptoms of Untreated Lyme Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April 13, 2020.
- About Arthritis and Other Rheumatic Diseases. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
- Ankylosing Spondylitis Remission. CreakyJoints.
- Focusing on Fibromyalgia. NIH News in Health. February 2016.
- Prognosis and Life Expectancy. Lupus Foundation of America. July 18, 2013.
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- Symptoms and Diagnosis of Gout. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center.
- Aletaha D, Smolen JS. Diagnosis and Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Review. Journal of the American Medical Association. October 2, 2018.
- Fibromyalgia. American College of Rheumatology. March 2019.
- Lupus: Diagnosis and Treatment. Mayo Clinic. October 25, 2017.
- Not One, but Two New Medications Approved This Month For Non-Radiographic Axial Spondyloarthritis (Nr-AxSpA). Spondylitis Association of America. June 2020.
- Exercise for Rheumatic Disease. Cedars-Sinai.
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- Common Triggers For Lupus. Lupus Foundation of America. July 18, 2013.
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- Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. March 1, 2019.
- “My Disease May Be Invisible, But I’m Not”; Patients Tell Their Stories During RDAM. American College of Rheumatology. September 2, 2020.
- Arthritis. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health. January 30, 2019.
- Reveille JD, Witter JP, Weisman MH. Prevalence of Axial Spondyloarthritis in the United States: Estimates From a Cross-Sectional Survey. Arthritis Care & Research. June 2012.
- Singh G, Lingala B, Mithal A. Gout and Hyperuricaemia in the USA: Prevalence and Trends. Rheumatology. December 2019.
- Lyme Disease: How Many People Get Lyme Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 21, 2018.
- Lupus Facts and Statistics. Lupus Foundation of America. October 6, 2016.
- Psoriatic Arthritis — Disease Overview. Johns Hopkins Rheumatology. May 7, 2018.
- Psoriatic Arthritis. National Library of Medicine. August 17, 2020.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis. National Library of Medicine. August 17, 2020.
- Lupus and Women. Office on Women’s Health. March 25, 2019.
- Predicting Crohn’s Disease in Those with Ankylosing Spondylitis. Spondylitis Association of America.
- Common Diseases That Overlap With Lupus. Lupus Foundation of America. February 28, 2014.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lung Problems. Arthritis Foundation. September 8, 2020.
- Is Depression a Factor in Rheumatoid Arthritis? Mayo Clinic. October 18, 2019.