Rheumatology is the medical discipline that deals with diseases of the locomotor system. This means Rheumatology treats diseases of the muscles, tendons and (mainly) the joints. The main complaint is usually pain or swelling in the joints.
Contrary to popular belief, there are many different types of rheumatic diseases. There is no such thing as 'rheumatism’! The term is used often, but can refer to over 200 different conditions. Broadly speaking, these conditions are grouped into inflammatory rheumatism, mechanical problems and metabolic disorders leading to joint problems.
These conditions are certainly not exclusive to the elderly. You can be confronted with 'rheumatism' at any age, even as a child.
The most typical rheumatic disease is rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a frequent problem and occurs in people of all ages. It is the typical inflammatory rheumatism we’ve all heard of. If left untreated, it can lead to serious deformities and disability.
Osteoarthritis is also part of rheumatology. It is an example of mechanical rheumatism. Loss of cartilage, which is characteristic of osteoarthritis, leads to pain due to overexertion. Osteoarthritis is more common as you get older (wear-and-tear rheumatism), but age is not the only causative factor. Some other examples of rheumatic diseases are gout (metabolic problem) and Bechterew's disease.
Contrary to popular belief, rheumatic problems are mostly treatable. Each disease requires an individual approach, as there are very different manifestations and evolutionary forms. However, it can generally be said that an early and correct diagnosis and an appropriate treatment started early on is important to avoid a disabling evolution.