Although it’s a little hard to believe, the first members of the baby-boom generation are now 65 or older. If you are around that age, you’ve probably noticed a few more aches and pains each year. Unfortunately, the chance of suffering from a rheumatic illness like arthritis tends to increase with age. Rheumatic diseases and related conditions include more than 100 disorders that typically affect the joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles. Many patients turn to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in treating rheumatic diseases, to get the specialized care they need.
Some of typical diseases that you might need to see a rheumatologist for include:
Rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease, this type of arthritis causes inflammation in the lining of the joints and sometimes affects other internal organs.
Osteoporosis – a common disease that causes bones to lose mass and become brittle, often resulting in fractures.
Lupus – a chronic inflammatory disease that affects muscles, joints, skin and other parts of the body.
Osteoarthritis – the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis causes joint pain and stiffness due to a breakdown of cartilage in the joints.
Gout – the most common inflammatory arthritis in adults that can cause severe pain, swelling and tenderness in some joints.
Scleroderma – an autoimmune disease that involves the tightening and hardening of the skin and connective tissues.
Psoriatic arthritis – a common form of arthritis associated with psoriasis.
Lyme Disease – an infectious disease, brought on by a tick bite that can cause medical complications including joint pain and arthritis.
What causes rheumatic diseases?
Doctors believe that rheumatic diseases are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. For instance, there are many genes and combinations of genes that could predispose you to coming down with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, but it could be an environmental factor that triggers them. Gender can also play a role in rheumatic conditions, some diseases such as lupus are much more common in women than men while gout is much more common in men. Unfortunately, the exact cause of many rheumatic illnesses is not known. However, doctors and scientists are learning more about them all the time.
Don’t let pain and stiffness keep you from being active
If you are experiencing joint pain or other problems, it’s always important to be open and honest with your physician regarding your condition. Many people who are older often just live with the pain and stiffness they encounter each day and don’t seek treatment. Although we all slow down with age, pain should not be considered a normal part of aging. It’s important to stay active and exercise regularly as you age. In most cases, exercise can improve muscle strength, decrease joint pain and stiffness, and lower the chance of disability if done on a regular basis. So if you’re cutting back on exercise because of pain, be sure to talk to your doctor.
Proper treatment can really make a difference
While there are few cures for rheumatic diseases, there are many therapies that can make a big difference for patients by relieving pain, lessening inflammation, and slowing or stopping damage to joints. This is why seeking help quickly is so important. Medications, physical therapy, and surgery all play a role in treating rheumatic illnesses. Many patients have benefitted from highly improved therapies, such as biologic drugs that treat rheumatoid arthritis. Many of these newer therapies have allowed patients of all ages to be active and live nearly pain-free.
If you believe you are suffering from a disease that affects your joints, bones, ligaments, muscles or tendons, a good place to start is your primary care provider. He or she can help with the initial diagnosis and refer you to a specialist if needed. The doctors and advanced practitioners at the Division of Rheumatology at Reliant Medical Group are dedicated to providing superior care for all manner of rheumatic illnesses, including advanced testing and treatment. To learn more, call (508) 595-2855 or visitwww.reliantmedicalgroup.org/rheumatology.