What Is Arthritis?

“Arthritis” and “Rheumatism” are 2 words with different meanings that often confuse people. Essentially, they are separate terms with a minor degree of overlap between them. “Arthritis” means disease of or damage to the joints. “Rheumatism” is a more general term used to describe any pain in or around your bones, muscles and joints. The term “rheumatic diseases” is used to refer to all types of arthritis and rheumatism.
Different types of rheumatic diseases affect different parts of a joint. For example, osteoarthritis is due to thinning of the cartilage, whereas rheumatoid arthritis is due to inflammation of the synovium, the layer of tissue lining the joint capsule.

What Are The Symptoms Of Arthritis?

Everyone gets aches and pains in the joints and muscles from time to time, particularly if they take part in unusual or excessive physical activities. So, how can we distinguish between normal pain and stiffness from the beginning of a rheumatic disease?
Firstly, persistent pain and stiffness in or around the joints which has no obvious cause, such as unusual exercise, could be due to a rheumatic disease. If it fails to settle after a few days’ rest, or if there is also a lot of stiffness and difficulty in moving the joint, you should consult your doctor for advice. Other symptoms of rheumatic disease can include tiredness, a general feeling of unwellness, unplanned weight loss, mild fevers or skin rashes.
Secondly, a joint that is developing arthritis is quite likely to swell up and may also feel warm to touch.
Joint pain and stiffness are common, and often go away after a period of a few weeks or a few months. It is sometimes difficult for both the patient and the doctor to know whether or not the symptoms mean that arthritis is developing or not. Sometimes tests are needed.
Remember, if in doubt, consult a doctor or specialist.

Main Types Of Rheumatic Diseases

There are about 200 different types of rheumatic diseases. They fall into 4 main categories:

  1. Inflammatory Arthritis
    In these disorders, the joint lining (synovium) becomes inflamed, which can damage the surface of the joint and underlying bone. The joint can become hot and swollen. Rheumatoid arthritis is an example, but there are many forms of inflammatory arthritis including gout, reactive arthritis, arthritis associated with psoriasis and colitis and rarer disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus.
  2. Osteoarthritis
    This is a common condition where the smooth surface (cartilage) of the joints become thinner and damaged. It can result from abnormal stress on joints, or from many different forms of injury, joint damage or joint disease. However, in many cases, it develops without any obvious cause. Because the cartilage is damaged, the natural “shock-absorbing” properties of the joint are affected and the joint becomes painful to move. The knees and hands are the most likely joints to be affected, but osteoarthritis can occur in any joint.
  3. Back pain
    This can be caused by any one of a number of problems, including stresses on the spine, damage to or degeneration of the muscles, discs, ligaments and joints, as well as various rheumatic diseases such as ankylosing spondylitis and spinal osteoarthritis (spondylosis).
  4. Soft tissue rheumatism
    Rheumatic pain can arise from damage to areas around the joints, such as ligaments and tendons. Minor injury or over-use can result in localised pain which is often self-limiting. An example is tennis elbow. In addition, more generalised pain can develop in the muscles or joints without arthritis, for example, fibromyalgia.

Who Gets Arthritis And Rheumatism?

Arthritis and rheumatism can occur in anyone, men, women, children, the elderly, and all races can be affected.

What Happens If You Get Arthritis Or Rheumatism?


As there are many different types of arthritis and rheumatism, it is important to see a doctor or specialist to get a correct diagnosis of your joint pains. One type of doctor to see are rheumatologists, who are doctors trained in the diagnosis and management of joint diseases. This is because many forms of rheumatism such as the soft tissue disorders, may get better on their own. In contrast, some forms of inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, will require long-term treatment to keep the disease under control and prevent deterioration of the arthritis. The type and duration of treatment will therefore depend on what type of arthritis and rheumatism that you have.
Therefore, in summary, the correct diagnosis of joint pains is important as this would lead to appropriate and timely treatment.

Source: Arthritis Foundation Malaysia (