Rheumatic diseases or arthropathies are disorders of the musculoskeletal system not due to trauma or infection. They are a group of diseases characterized by inflammation and pain of the muscles and mobile articulations. (Articulations or joints are connections between two bones. A soft tissue called cartilage usually covers them). There are many different arthropathies. The two more common ones are arthrosis and rheumatoid arthritis, different and usually confounded.
Arthrosis most frequently called osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease) is the most common form of all rheumatic diseases and represents almost 70% of all forms of arthropathies. It is a chronic degenerative alteration of the articulations and of the bone itself, a condition affecting especially the elderly people. When years pass by, the cartilage covering the joints gets thinner and thinner, with the time inflammation and pain.
Arthritis, the inflammatory process of the articulation, may be also caused by other joints problems: infections, immune diseases, trauma and other unknown causes. It is not exclusive of arthrosis. Such disorders as rheumatic fever, rheumatoid arthritis, spondylitis, degenerative joint disease and gout are included in this category, as well as a group of frequent muscular and synovial painful conditions classified as fibrositis or muscular rheumatism. Some arthritis may affect also young people and children.
Rheumatic diseases have widespread social and economic consequences in all societies. This varied group of diseases includes at least 100 different conditions, and constitutes a significant public health problem in countries of North America and Europe, in Japan, and in some urban centers of South America and Australia.
As far as two-thirds of the world population is concerned, concern of public health authorities for rheumatic diseases is rarely more than marginal and is frequently non-existent. There is increasing evidence that rheumatoid arthritis and related diseases are a major cause of disability and incapacity for work. Genetic predisposition and a variety of environmental factors may be involved in their aetiology.