Rheumatism or rheumatic disorder is a non-specific term for medical problems affecting the joints and connective tissue. The study of, and therapeutic interventions in, such disorders is called rheumatology.
The term "rheumatism" is still used in colloquial speech and historical contexts, but is no longer frequently used in medical or technical literature; there is no longer any recognized disorder simply called "rheumatism". Some countries use the word rheumatism to describe fibromyalgia syndrome. The traditional term covers such a range of different problems that to ascribe symptoms to "rheumatism" is not to say very much. Nevertheless, sources dealing with rheumatism tend to focus on arthritis. However, "non-articular rheumatism", also known as "regional pain syndrome" or "soft tissue rheumatism" can cause significant discomfort and difficulty. Furthermore, arthritis and rheumatism between them cover at least 200 different conditions.
The major rheumatic disorders currently recognized include:
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Back pain
- Bursitis/Tendinitis, Shoulder pain, wrist, biceps, leg, knee (patellar), ankle, hip, and Achilles
- Neck pain
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Rheumatic fever
- Rheumatic heart disease (a long-term complication of Rheumatic fever)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Temporal arteritis and Polymyalgia rheumatica
Although these disorders probably have little in common in terms of their epidemiology, they do share two characteristics: they cause chronic (though often intermittent) pain, and they are difficult to treat. They are also, collectively, very common.
A vast number of traditional herbal remedies were recommended for "rheumatism". Modern medicine, both conventional and complementary, recognises that the different rheumatic disorders have different causes (and several of them have multiple causes) and require different kinds of treatment.
Nevertheless, initial therapy of the major rheumatological diseases is with analgesics, such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), members of which are ibuprofen and diclofenac. Often, stronger analgesics are required.
"Rheumatism" and weather
There has long been said to be a link between "rheumatic" pain and the weather. There appears to be no firm evidence in favour or against; a 1995 questionnaire given to 557 people by A. Naser and others at the Brigham and Women's Hospital's Pain Management Center concludes that "changes in barometric pressure are the main link between weather and pain. Low pressure is generally associated with cold, wet weather and an increase in pain. Clear, dry conditions signal high pressure and a decrease in pain".