The immune system reacts to germs, viruses and injury by sending inflammation to the affected area. The inflammation is meant to surround and protect the delicate nerves and blood vessels in that area of the body. But when inflammation occurs unnecessarily, we call the condition an autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune diseases can damage the nerves, joints, muscles and internal organs.
What conditions do rheumatologists treat?
Our rheumatologists are trained to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions that cause joint and muscle pain. Some of these include:
- Chronic back pain
- Connective tissue diseases
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Of course, these conditions affect more than just the joints and muscles. Our rheumatology team will work with your primary care doctor and other providers to help manage your symptoms. Some teams we frequently work with include:
What are the symptoms of rheumatic disease?
Symptoms of rheumatic disease vary based on the person affected and the type of condition. Some conditions’ symptoms may be vague or widespread, while others are more obvious and easier to diagnose.
Common symptoms that appear in many rheumatic diseases include:
- Joint pain, stiffness or swelling
- Sleep disturbance from pain
- Toughness, tightening or hardening of the skin
- Weakness or loss of mobility
If you experience these symptoms, please talk to your doctor, who may refer you to a rheumatologist to diagnose the condition.
How are rheumatic conditions diagnosed?
A physical exam and laboratory tests are two key components in diagnosing and treating rheumatic diseases. Your doctor may order bloodwork, a fluid sample from an affected joint, a urine sample or other laboratory tests.
The doctor also may order one or more of the following tests, depending on your condition:
Because rheumatic disease symptoms can be vague, the diagnostic process may take time. Please try to be patient as your care team works through your diagnosis. We want to provide effective treatment to relieve your pain, but we want to do so safely – an accurate diagnosis is the only way to do so.
What treatments are offered?
There currently is no cure for rheumatic diseases, but treatment can help alleviate pain, restore mobility and control symptoms. We create individualized care plans for all of our patients, and these are some general treatments we recommend:
- Diet changes – Certain foods and drinks, such as alcohol, increase inflammation in the body. The rheumatologist may recommend you avoid these triggers or partake in careful moderation.
- Exercise – Though it may seem counterintuitive, exercise can help improve mobility, relieve stiffness and decrease swelling. Your doctor can recommend appropriate exercises for your ability and condition.
- Heat and cold therapy – Applying hot or cold compresses can help ease swelling and relieve pain. Talk to the rheumatologist before using this technique with your condition.
- Medication – Oral or topical medications can help relieve pain. Some patients find better relief of stiffness and swelling from corticosteroid injections.
- Relaxation techniques – Relaxing the body, mind and spirit can help relieve muscle tension and pain. Learn about pain management techniques.
Your doctor also may suggest an assistive device to alleviate pressure on sore joints and muscles, such as a brace, splint, cane or walker.