5 signs that you might suffer from rheumatism


5 signs that you might suffer from rheumatism

Up until a generation or two ago, it was actually like this: Older people with deformed fingers, who could hardly hold a jam jar, let alone open it, were not uncommon in their circle of acquaintances. The fact that rheumatism was recognized late or never at all meant that the disease was often so far advanced in our grandparents’ generation.

The good news: Thanks to modern therapies, all types of rheumatism can now be easily treated. The bad news: Rheumatism is one of the most widespread diseases, but it is often recognized (too) late.

Rheumatism: The symptoms often begin insidiously
The most common forms of rheumatism are rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis (psoriasis), soft tissue rheumatism, degenerative joint diseases such as arthrosis, collagenosis, fibromyalgia, Bechterew’s disease and gout. The symptoms often begin insidiously and are initially dismissed as a sports injury, strain or even imagination. A swollen foot, a painful handshake or joint stiffness in the morning that then disappears again during the day: At first nobody thinks of a rheumatic disease.

Patients often suffer from severe pain for years and still wait in vain for a correct diagnosis. “If the first joints or tendons start to hurt without me knowing why, i.e. without hitting myself somewhere or overworked, then that is very suspicious and can indicate a rheumatic condition,” says Thomas Schwingenschlögl ( dr- schwingenschloegl.at), specialist in rheumatology. He has often seen how the disease creeps in slowly and unnoticed: “The first flare-up of rheumatism is sometimes massive, so that all of a sudden all joints are swollen and you can hardly move. Then, of course, the patients go straight to the doctor subtle swelling in tendons or joints and morning stiffness that gets worse week by week.”

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“A negative rheumatoid factor says nothing at all”
The first point of contact for those affected is usually the general practitioner, who ideally sends the patient to a specialist right away. That doesn’t happen far too often because untrained medical eyes misinterpret the symptoms or simply don’t recognize them at all. And the ordeal from the first symptoms to the diagnosis usually takes far too long. Schwingenschlögl: “When rheumatism is suspected, a small blood count is often taken with a negative rheumatoid factor, and it says: ‘You don’t have rheumatism!’ A negative rheumatoid factor says nothing. It is an indication of certain diseases, but by no means proof.”

When diagnosing such a complex circle of diseases, experience and clear patterns of disease help. “Each rheumatic disease has to be treated completely differently. The first step is laboratory findings and imaging procedures such as X-rays, ultrasound and MRI to clarify the first suspicion. Only then is drug therapy, a so-called basic therapy, started,” says Schwingenschlögl.

SUDDEN JOINT SWELLING: If swelling in hands and/or feet suddenly occurs overnight and you cannot explain where it is coming from, you should have it clarified by a doctor.
MORNING STIFFNESS AND JOINT PAIN: Joints are stiff and painful in the morning and often take hours to feel normal.
IMPACT: Opening the jam jar is the first hurdle in the morning.
WELCOME PAIN: A too strong handshake hurts.
LIMITATION OF MOVEMENT: It is difficult or impossible to make a fist or stretch out your fingers.
Rheumatism is an umbrella term for over 400 very complex diseases. Around a quarter of the population is affected in some way, and women are three times more likely than men. The most dangerous form is inflammatory rheumatism. The insidious thing about it: In the case of inflammatory rheumatism such as psoriatic arthritis, the defense cells of the immune system turn against their own body, are hyperactive and attack healthy inner joint walls and tendons. This malfunction must be stopped before damage occurs. Thanks to modern therapy options, this works very well nowadays. If a rheumatic disease is detected within the first three months, there is a good chance of catching the disease before permanent joint damage occurs.

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“Today there are excellent therapeutic options and drugs that can stop the disease in a high percentage of patients.” This early detection means no problems in everyday life, at work or in sports. This saves the patients years of therapy and pain and ensures that they themselves can contribute to significantly improving the course of the disease. This is exactly where the crux lies: Hardly any disease can be influenced as positively by a healthy lifestyle as rheumatism. How we eat and whether we exercise is at least as important as the medication itself.

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