Rheumatism – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Rheumatism , rheumatoid arthritis or chronic polyarthritis are terms for a rheumatic disease. Rheumatism can also be subdivided into inflammatory and degenerative rheumatic diseases.

What is rheumatism?

Rheumatism is the generic term for a variety of painful conditions of the musculoskeletal system. It is not always just the bones that are affected, but also the connective tissue on and in the joints. Rheumatism, which takes place in the connective tissue, is counted among the collagenoses (connective tissue diseases). Collagen is a protein-like component of connective tissue.

Collagen connective tissue is found in the skin, bones, tendons, cartilage, muscles and blood vessels. Collagen provides strength and support to other structures in the body. Degenerative joint diseases such as arthrosis are among the rheumatic diseases. Thanks to modern medical diagnostics, it is now possible to better diagnose the approximately 200 different rheumatic diseases, even if they cannot yet be completely cured.


There are many causes of rheumatism . First and foremost is a malfunctioning immune system (autoimmune disease). The immune system recognizes some of the body’s own structures as foreign bodies and tries to fight them, which results in inflammatory reactions. Today, the autoantibodies can be differentiated very well in the laboratory, so that early detection is possible.

The autoimmune disease rheumatism has a familial component, ie rheumatic diseases occur more frequently in some families. Infections with streptococci, borrelia, chlamydia or exposure to moisture, cold or toxins can trigger rheumatism. Psoriasis can also affect the joints and/or the spine . The occurrence of rheumatism is linked to certain processes in the blood. It is assumed that a special form of allergy is present. This causes a sensitization of the joint surfaces.

The human immune system can then recognize these as foreign tissue and react. Rheumatism means “flow, stream, tear”. And this is exactly how those affected describe the pain of rheumatism.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The first sign of rheumatism is the so-called morning stiffness , which can be associated with slight pain. After a few minutes of movement, the affected joints become more flexible again. This can be one or more fingers. The ankles can also be affected. As the disease progresses, the duration of morning stiffness increases significantly. The painful joint problems can also occur at rest.

Swelling develops in the affected joint areas . The movement restrictions increase. In addition to functional complaints, changes in shape can occur. The pain that occurs can present itself as pulling, tearing or flowing. In addition to the joints, bones, muscles and ligaments can also be affected in an inflammatory rheumatoid disease (arthritis). The number of affected parts of the body increases.

The left and right half of the body is affected. The symptoms can also occur in larger joints such as the shoulder joint or knee joint. Bony deformities can develop over a long period of time as a result of rheumatism. In the case of a rheumatic disease in the form of arthritis, the inflammatory processes also affect the organs and the nervous system.

General feelings of illness such as night sweats , exhaustion and excessive tiredness as well as weight loss can set in. Rheumatic symptoms can occur intermittently. In the case of a rheumatic disease in the form of gout , severe pain suddenly occurs in a specific joint (gout attack). Signs of soft tissue rheumatism are pain in muscles, tendons, cartilage and fatty tissue.

course of the disease

Rheumatism as a disease has many faces as it progresses. It can be acute, flare-up or chronic. Rheumatism is noticeable through sensitivity to pressure, pain and stiffness of the muscles and joints. In the early stages, many sufferers complain of tiredness and morning stiffness of the entire musculoskeletal system. At this stage, only slight changes in the blood count can be seen.

If some joints are then swollen, inflamed and very painful in the acute phase, deformations (visible changes) remain. Some rheumatic diseases from the area of ​​collagenosis have exhaustion , fever , loss of appetite and weight loss as accompanying symptoms in their clinical picture. However, rheumatism can also go on for several years without any signs of illness and thus without impairing everyday life.


Rheumatism or rheumatoid arthritis can cause various complications. This danger is particularly acute if appropriate treatment is not provided. One of the most common consequences of rheumatic diseases is swelling in the metatarsophalangeal and middle joints of the fingers. The changes in the joints progress insidiously and can take up to ten years.

While some joints hyperextend, others assume a flexed posture. It is not uncommon for so-called rheumatic nodules to form on the extensor side of the joint. In the adjacent area, the affected people often suffer from bone loss (osteoporosis), where the bone loses its strength. Bone defects also occur in the edge area of ​​the joints, which are referred to in medicine as erosions. Even with the help of medical therapy, the symptoms can often only be alleviated.

Another complication is the spread of rheumatic nodules into the intestines. The nodules are often painless, but in some cases they cause discomfort, which primarily affects heavily stressed parts of the body.

If the rheumatism progresses, this has a negative effect on the gripping functions of the hands. This in turn can result in the need for care of those affected. Around ten percent of all rheumatism patients suffer from severe disabilities. In the worst case, the diseased joints are destroyed.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is also one of the secondary diseases associated with rheumatism. Pressure damage to the nerves occurs as a result of rheumatoid arthritis, which, in addition to pain, also causes paralysis of the hand muscles.

When should you go to the doctor?

The first sign of a rheumatic disease is morning stiffness. The fingers, joints or feet can only be moved with difficulty or hardly at all. Full mobility is only achieved after several minutes. The affected areas often swell. There is also a feeling of heat and discoloration of the skin. A doctor should be consulted at the first sign, since rheumatism is one of the chronic diseases.

The sooner medical care begins, the better treatment options there are and the speed of disease progression can be influenced. General limitations in mobility or mobility indicate an impairment. Malpositions occur and cause concern. If the usual physical performance drops or if persistent pain occurs, a doctor is needed.

There is no need to consult a doctor if the body is overworked. In these cases, spontaneous healing occurs after a sufficient period of rest and a restful night’s sleep. Research into the cause is indicated when the symptoms gradually increase, a feeling of illness occurs or the person concerned wakes up with night sweats. Fatigue or deformities of the skeletal system should be presented to a doctor. If joint pain occurs in a resting position, this is an alarm signal from the body that should be followed up.

Treatment & Therapy

Thanks to research, the treatment options for rheumatism have become very diverse and can be better used specifically for individual rheumatic diseases. Despite everything, cortisone (cortisone) is the first medication in acute cases. Cortisone allows the inflammation to subside. The chronic course of rheumatism also responds very well to cortisone. There are now new types of cortisone preparations that take effect at night, so that morning stiffness is less.

If cortisone does not bring the hoped-for relief, immunosuppressants are used. These are drugs that inhibit the body’s natural defenses against its own tissues. The administration of cortisone can be reduced by the use of immunosuppressants. Everyone suffering from rheumatism should also change their diet to reflect the disease. Since cortisone decalcifies the bones, a sufficient supply of calcium should not be missing. Ommega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E have a positive effect on rheumatism. Walks, swimming and physiotherapy relieve pain in rheumatism.


In order to alleviate the symptoms of rheumatism, the affected person must adjust their lifestyle accordingly. Nutrition plays an important role in this. Rheumatism research now knows that certain dietary patterns have a negative impact on the disease and can aggravate symptoms that have already occurred. The patient should initially aim for a normal body weight.

Rheumatic diseases require a predominantly plant-based diet supplemented by low-fat dairy products and fish. Animal fats promote inflammatory processes in the body and should therefore be avoided if possible. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, are said to have anti-inflammatory properties and should be supplied to the organism in sufficient quantities.

Rheumatic patients should therefore regularly, about twice a week, integrate high-fat sea fish such as herring, mackerel and salmon into their diet. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in vegetable oils such as rapeseed, walnut or linseed oil, which are good for cooking and refining salads. Water and unsweetened teas are suitable for supplying the body with sufficient liquid.

Alcohol consumption should be minimized. Regular exercise helps to maintain the mobility and thus the independence of the patient. Moderate sports such as swimming and cycling stabilize the general body feeling. Long walks are easy on the joints and also contribute to the well-being of the patient. Many patients find it helpful to exchange ideas with other sufferers in self-help groups, thereby relieving the psychological strain.

You can do that yourself

The symptoms of rheumatism can be alleviated by the patient himself through lifestyle-dependent factors. Diet plays a very important role in this. Rheumatism researchers assume that certain dietary patterns promote the development of symptoms or can aggravate symptoms that have already occurred. It is desirable to aim for a normal body weight. When choosing food, food intolerance and possible concomitant diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, should be taken into account.

In the case of rheumatoid diseases, a mainly plant-based diet in combination with the consumption of low-fat dairy products and fish is recommended. Animal fats from eggs, meat, sausages, liver or butter contain high amounts of arachidonic acid. This fatty acid promotes inflammation in the organism and should therefore be avoided as much as possible, especially in the case of rheumatism.

Anti- inflammatory properties are primarily attributed to omega-3 fatty acids . These are mainly contained in fatty sea fish such as herring, salmon and mackerel. People with rheumatism should therefore regularly, about twice a week, integrate fish into their diet. Other important suppliers of omega-3 fatty acids are vegetable oils from linseed , rapeseed and walnut oil. These are suitable for refining salads or for cooking. Rheumatism patients should ensure that they drink enough fluids in the form of water or unsweetened tea and at the same time keep their alcohol consumption as low as possible.

In order to maintain independence and mobility in everyday life, rheumatism patients should exercise regularly. Depending on the course of the disease and symptoms, joint-gentle sports such as cycling or swimming are recommended. Regular and generous walks are suitable alternatives.

Furthermore, rheumatism patients can take part in self-help groups in order to exchange experiences with other sufferers. Regular visits to self-help groups help patients deal with everyday problems, provide additional individual tips and can significantly reduce psychological stress.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.