Rheumatic diseases affect your joints tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles. Among them are many types of arthritis, a term used for conditions that affect your joints.

Sometimes they’re called musculoskeletal diseases. Common symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • Loss of motion in a joint or joints
  • Inflammation — swelling, redness, and warmth in a joint or affected area

The medical field that studies these types of conditions is called rheumatology. If your regular doctor thinks you have a rheumatic disease, he’ll probably send you to a rheumatologist — a doctor who’s specially trained to treat them.

Your rheumatologist will examine you to diagnose your condition, then oversee a treatment plan for you that will likely include medications, regular exercise, a healthy diet, stress management, and rest.

What Causes Rheumatic Disease?

Most of these conditions happen when your immune system goes awry and attacks your own tissues. Doctors aren’t sure what causes this. Sometimes it’s in your genes. Other times it’s a result of something in the world around you, like cigarette smoke, pollution, or something that causes an infection. Gender also plays a role — rheumatic diseases seem to affect women more than men.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms. You’ll also get a physical exam. You may also need to get blood tests or let your doctor take a sample of fluid from an affected joint.

Usually by the time someone with a rheumatic disease seeks treatment, there are changes visible on an X-ray of the joint. The X-ray may show narrowing of the joint space or the presence of bone spurs. In some cases, your doctor might request an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to provide a picture of the inside of your joint.