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What Is Rheumatism?

The medical term “rheumatism” covers a number of disorders that affect different parts of the body. People tend to think of it in conjunction with rheumatoid arthritis. Some think it is related to rheumatic fever, a complication of a viral disease called strep throat that can (in more serious cases) actually lead to heart damage. It has, at one point or another, also been linked to lupus, fibromyalgia, tendonitis—all very different conditions. However, they were all thought to be caused by pain in the joints. It was only much, much later that medical researchers discovered that some of these conditions were actually immune system problems that attacked joints, muscles and organs.

For example, some diseases that fall under rheumatism (called non-articular) involve the soft tissues of the body. This includes tendonitis and fibromyalgia. Sometimes only a particular part of the body is affected. For example, some people may complain of “tennis elbow.” This is actually bursitis, when the bursa (where the joints and muscles overlap) became injured from constant pressure and overuse. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is also a type of non-articular rheumatism, caused by the repetitive movement of the fingers and the poor positioning of the hands while typing. Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), is also one of the conditions found under rheumatism. This affects the jaw, specifically painful popping whenever it is moved.

Today most doctors prefer talking about the concrete illness and its particular symptoms, causes and possible treatments instead of lumping it under an umbrella term like “rheumatism.” This is particularly important since many of the diseases associated under “rheumatism” are so very different from one another.

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