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Are Rheumatism, Rheumatic Disease, and Arthritis the Same?

Understanding the Terminology


Updated June 27, 2014

Are Rheumatism, Rheumatic Disease, and Arthritis the Same?

Symmetric pattern of rheumatoid joints

Image by A.D.A.M.

What Is Rheumatism?

Rheumatism refers to various painful medical conditions that affect bones, joints, muscles, and tendons (see illustration). Rheumatism may also involve internal organs, including the:

The term "rheumatism" is not frequently used in current medical text, but is more often found in historical medical text. Rheumatism does not refer to a single disease or condition, but rather a group of conditions with similar symptoms and characteristics.

Rheumatism has been more specifically classified, based on location and characteristics of symptoms, as:

  • localized rheumatism (e.g., bursitis)
  • regional rheumatism (e.g., temporomandibular joint pain)
  • generalized rheumatism (e.g., fibromyalgia)
  • psychogenic rheumatism (e.g., when muscle and joint pain is inconsistent with actual physiology and patient is thought to have psychological reasons for their symptoms)

What Are Rheumatic Diseases and Conditions?

Rheumatic diseases and conditions primarily affect joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles (see illustration). Rheumatic diseases are characterized by the signs of inflammation - redness, heat, swelling, and pain. Also, rheumatic diseases are characterized by loss of function among one or more connective or supportive structures of the body. Rheumatic diseases can affect internal organs. Rheumatic disease is a more modern or updated term, as opposed to rheumatism.

Common Rheumatic Diseases

What Is Arthritis?

Some people use the word arthritis to refer to all rheumatic diseases. Arthritis, which literally means joint inflammation (see illustration), is part of the classification we call rheumatic disease. Arthritis primarily involves:

  • joint pain
  • joint stiffness
  • joint inflammation
  • joint damage

Common Types of Arthritis

Conclusion About Rheumatism, Rheumatic Disease, and Arthritis

Rheumatism and rheumatic disease are terms that can be used interchangeably. Rheumatism is recognized as an older term, though. Various types of arthritis, however, are technically part of the rheumatic disease classification. "Arthritis", when accurately used, primarily refers to conditions with joint involvement as the main consequence of the disease.


Rheumatism, from MedicineNet

Q & A About Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases, from NIAMS

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