The umbrella term 'rheumatism' is used to refer to a variety of different, painful conditions affecting the skeleton and its supporting structures. In a narrower sense, rheumatism relates to joint inflammations that cause chronic diseases of several joints, known as inflammatory rheumatism.
These diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and Bechterew's disease. Inflammatory joint diseases of other origins, however, as well as joint wear and tear (arthrosis) are also often classified under the umbrella term of rheumatism.
Since most symptoms can also be characteristic of other conditions, sufferers often experience the condition for a long time before the correct diagnosis is made. The chronic inflammation leads to long-term cartilage damage and therefore to arthrosis.
The first symptoms are usually joint pain at night and in the morning, morning stiffness, joint swelling, tiredness and exhaustion. In the advanced stages, pain and limitations of movement generally occur, along with joint deformities that can have a significant impact on the sufferer's activities of daily living.
In the early stages, rheumatism is generally treated with conservative therapies such as physiotherapy, the application of heat and cold and medication-based and exercise-based therapy. In some cases, surgical procedures such as removal of the inflamed inner layer of the joint (synovectomy) may be required, and this is often carried out through arthroscopic surgery.
In the advanced stages, surgical joint stiffening and joint replacement operations such as hip and knee joint prostheses may be used. The aim of all operations is to enable the patient to cope with everyday life in as pain-free a manner as possible.