Rheumatic diseases are characterized by inflammation of the connecting and supporting structures of the body. The most affected structures are the joints, but sometimes the tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles can also be affected.
Some rheumatic diseases can affect the organs, eventually leading to loss of function of the affected organ.
These diseases include arthritis, which literally means joint inflammation, but can include over 100 different rheumatic disorders. These mainly affect the spine are considered spondyloarthropathies.
The most common rheumatic diseases
Osteoarthritis – the most common type of arthritis, which affects and destroys primarily the cartilage, which means the soft tissue that covers and protects the ends of the bones in the joints;
Rheumatoid arthritis – is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system erroneously attacks the soft tissue in the joints;
Fibromyalgia – is a chronic condition characterized by areas triggering symptoms and localized pain in the musculoskeletal system;
Lupus erythematosus – an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation in many parts of the body, including the joints, skin, kidneys, blood, lungs, heart and brain;
Gout – is a type of arthritis that develops when uric acid builds up in the joints. It most commonly affects the joints of the fingers;
Idiopathic juvenile arthritis – is the most common form of arthritis in children, and may be accompanied by fever and rash;
Infectious arthritis – can be caused by Lyme disease and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
Psoriatic arthritis – a type of arthritis that affects the fingers and toes and is associated with psoriasis;
Ankylosing spondylitis – the most common spondyloarthropathy, which can affect the hips, shoulders and knees, in addition to the spine.
Rheumatic polymyalgia – a condition that causes pain and stiffness in the tendons, muscles, ligaments and tissues of the joints.
Causes of Rheumatic Diseases and Risk Factors
Experts believe that rheumatic diseases are caused by a combination of genes and environmental factors. In general, with certain gene variants, the risk of rheumatic diseases can increase considerably, and environmental factors, such as cold, can trigger the onset of the disease.
Various factors can be blamed for increasing the risk of these diseases:
• Osteoarthritis is more common in the elderly than in children;
• Osteoarthritis may occur more frequently in people who exert constant stress on the joints;
• Rheumatoid arthritis can occur as a result of a triggering event, such as hormonal changes, bacterial or viral infections, and obesity;
• The female sex is much more exposed to the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and lupus erythematosus;
• Gout and spondyloarthropathy are more common in men;
• Lupus erythematosus often affects African Americans and Hispanics;
• Obesity and smoking increase the risk of rheumatic diseases.
Very low temperatures can aggravate rheumatic diseases, and the symptoms of rheumatic diseases can be more difficult to control during the winter, especially when the weather becomes cold and humid.
- The cold
Many patients feel that the cold weather aggravates their symptoms, especially the pain. However, the prediction of cold weather based on pain is not based on scientific evidence.
However, one possible reason may be muscle spasms that increase as temperatures drop.
This leads to pain and stiffness in the joints. The cold can also reduce blood flow to the fingers and toes, increasing the level of pain in these areas.
It is recommended to dress in clothes suitable for the weather outside, including thick gloves and socks, to protect your hands and feet from moisture and cold.
Hot baths are also recommended to reduce symptoms. In some cases, your doctor may recommend additional medications to manage your symptoms.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition. In this case, the winter can be much worse, because the immune system is weaker and the body is more prone to colds and flu.
In addition, drugs for this disease interfere with the immune system, exposing the body to infections. As a result, patients need to take extra precautions against seasonal illnesses, including the flu and its complications, such as pneumonia.
Influenza vaccines can be of real use in these cases. Sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces, but also avoiding contact with sick people are other methods that can be used for protection.
In winter it is much more difficult for a person to stay active. Exercise is usually an important part of the treatment of rheumatic diseases, improving the joints by reducing stiffness and muscle weakness.
Also, people with rheumatic diseases have a higher risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, and sports can help prevent these conditions.
In winter, physical activities should be promoted indoors, in the heat. Gyms are very good alternative methods, but exercising at home can be helpful.
Winter comes with a reduction in the length of the day and, implicitly, in the sunlight. Exposure to less sunlight can reduce vitamin D levels.
In people with rheumatic diseases, vitamin D deficiency is associated with metabolic syndrome and the accumulation of abnormal fats in the blood, these conditions being two risk factors for cardiovascular disease.