About Arthritis and Other Rheumatic Diseases
What is the difference between arthritis and other rheumatic diseases?
Arthritis is a group of more than 100 different diseases. It is also a type of rheumatic
disease. Rheumatic diseases may cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints.
They can also cause pain in other body structures. These include muscles, tendons,
ligaments, and bones. Rheumatic diseases can also affect other areas of the body,
such as internal organs. Some rheumatic diseases affect connective tissues. Others
may be caused by an autoimmune disorder. This means the body's immune system attacks
its own healthy cells and tissues.
Who treats arthritis and other rheumatic diseases?
Your doctor or other healthcare providers may treat arthritis and other rheumatic
diseases. Several doctors from different medical specialties may work together on your
treatment. This team approach is especially important to help manage the symptoms
of a rheumatic disease. Many symptoms are long-term (chronic) and change in severity
Some of the more common healthcare providers that help treat arthritis and other rheumatic
diseases are listed below.
Primary care doctor
A primary care doctor is the healthcare provider you see for general healthcare. This
doctor has special training in general internal medicine, family practice, or another
first-level-of-care area. Primary care doctors offer:
Routine healthcare, including annual physical exams and vaccines
Treatment for short-term (acute) health conditions
Care for conditions that may become more serious or chronic later
Your primary care doctor may diagnose or treat a disease. Or they'll refer you to
a specialist if needed.
A rheumatologist is a doctor with special training to treat arthritis and other rheumatic
diseases. Most rheumatologists have a background in internal medicine or pediatrics.
They are trained to find many types of rheumatic diseases in their earliest stages.
A rheumatologist has finished 4 years of medical school and 3 years of training in
internal medicine or pediatrics. They also have had 2 to 3 more years of special training
in rheumatology. They may also be board certified by the American Board of Internal
An orthopedic surgeon or orthopedist is a doctor with special training in orthopedic
surgery. An orthopedist is trained to know how the musculoskeletal system works. This
means they can diagnose a condition or disorder. The orthopedist can also find and
treat an injury and give rehabilitation to an affected area. This provider can help
you prevent further damage.
The orthopedist may have completed up to 14 years of training. The orthopedic surgeon
may also become board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery.
Many orthopedic surgeons practice general orthopedics. Others focus on certain areas
of the body. This might be the foot, shoulder, or spine. And others focus on certain
areas of care, such as sports medicine. Some orthopedists may focus on several areas.
They may also work with other specialists, such as neurosurgeons, rheumatologists,
A physical therapist (PT) is a healthcare provider who focuses on body motion and
function. They work on these systems: nervous system, muscles and bones, and heart
PTs are important members of the healthcare team. They evaluate and give treatment
for people with health problems caused by injury, disease, or overuse of muscles or
PTs have a degree in physical therapy. Many also have a master's or doctoral degree.
All graduates must be licensed by their state by passing a national certification
PTs may practice in many places. These include:
Home health agencies
Community health centers
PTs help you live with arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. They:
Make it easier for you to move
Improve your balance and gait
Help you move muscles and other soft tissues
Teach you how to better use your body
Help you use casts or splints
Teach you how to use a wheelchair safely
Help you recover after a nerve injury
Help you set up an exercise program
Teach your family how to help you get better
Help you manage pain
Teach you how to walk safely
An occupational therapist (OT) is a healthcare provider who helps people go back to
their daily tasks after a disease or an injury. An OT often does the following work
to help you recover:
Helps plan treatment activities
Helps both children and adults grow mentally, socially, and physically
Helps children and adults learn how to do daily tasks
Leads group or individual treatment to help children and adults in a mental health
center learn to cope with daily activities
Advises changes in layout and design of the home or school to give children and adults
with injuries or disabilities more access and safer mobility
OTs work many places. These include:
Home care agencies
A podiatrist is a doctor with special training to treat foot and ankle problems. They
can prescribe medicine and do surgery. For instance, people who have arthritis in
the feet may see a podiatrist for special supportive shoes.
Nurses with special training in rheumatic diseases may help your doctor in assessing
your family's and your needs. They may also help by providing, coordinating, and monitoring
your treatment plan and care. These nurses also may help educate and answer questions
about your specific treatment plan.
Who is affected by arthritis and other rheumatic diseases?
Arthritis and rheumatic diseases can affect anyone at any age or any race. But some
diseases are more common in certain groups:
Osteoarthritis is more common in older adults.
The incidence of rheumatoid arthritis is 2 to 3 times higher in women than men.
Fibromyalgia affects about 4 million adults in the U.S., more commonly in women.
Gout is more common in men.
Scleroderma is more common in women.
Lupus affects women about 8 to 10 times more often than it affects men.
Ankylosing spondylitis is more common in men.
What causes arthritis and other rheumatic diseases?
Experts don't know what causes most types of rheumatic disease. In many cases, the
cause depends on the type of rheumatic disease. But researchers believe that some
or all of these things may play a role:
What are the symptoms of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases?
People with arthritis or other rheumatic diseases may each have slightly different symptoms.
Also, different types of rheumatic diseases have different symptoms. But the most
common symptoms include:
Joint stiffness that lasts for at least 1 hour in the early morning
Chronic joint pain or soreness
Warmth and redness in the joint area
Limited movement in the affected joint
The symptoms of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases may look like other health
conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.