Arthritis & Rheumatism

What is Arthritis & Rheumatism?

Arthritis’ refers to problems with the joints. There are many forms of arthritis, ranging from mild to serious, and not all of them get progressively worse.

‘Rheumatism’ is a vaguer term with no precise medical meaning, which refers generally to aches and pains and problems with soft tissues, such as muscles and tendons, rather than with the joints.

There are many kinds of arthritis:

Getting a Diagnosis

Seeing the doctor

Your doctor will wants to know whether any close relatives have arthritis. Your family history is relevant because some people inherit a genetic susceptibility to some forms of arthritis. You should also tell your doctor if you have had any past injury to the joint, because this may cause problems to develop later on.

Tests and Investigations

Blood Tests

Full Blood Count

A machine counts the number of red and white blood cells and platelets in a cubic millimetre of blood. The haemaglobin level in the red blood cells is also measured. This shows whether you are anaemic, as can happen in rheumatoid arthritis.

Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)

The EST measures the stickiness of the red blood cells. A raised ESR suggests that inflammation is present, although it gives no indication as to the cause. The ESR is raised in those types of arthritis where the joints are severely inflamed.

Uric Acid

This is the substance that forms crystal in the joints during attacks of gout. An indication of gouty arthritis.

Rheumatoid Factor

Rheumatoid factor is an antibody that appears in the blood in some people with rheumatoid arthritis.

X-rays

The X-ray of a joint with arthritis may show the following changes:

Reduced Joint Space

In many forms of arthritis, but especially in osteoarthritis, the cartilage becomes thinner and the joint space becomes narrower.

Erosions

These are holes o the bones of the joint and they occur in advanced arthritis. Erosions can occur in rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of arthritis where the joints are severely inflamed.

Bony Overgrowth (Osteophytes)

Sometimes, arthritis causes extra bone to grow at the edges of affected joints. This can be seen quite clearly on an  X-ray.

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