top of page

Learning about Rheumatic Autoimmune Diseases: Common Questions About These Diseases

This post is the first in the Learning about Rheumatic Autoimmune Diseases series.

Today we are going to focus on some common questions that come up when you are learning about rheumatic autoimmune diseases.

This article will leave with with a better understanding of how rheumatic autoimmune diseases fit into your entire health journey.

What is an autoimmune disease?

An autoimmune disease is a condition inside the body where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues seeing them as foreign inside the body.

What is a rheumatic autoimmune disease?

A rheumatic autoimmune disease is a term used to describe a family of diseases grouped together based on similar properties such as joint pain and debilitating fatigue.

What are the autoimmune diseases in the rheumatic family?

There are several autoimmune conditions inside the realm of rheumatic diseases.

Here are the most common ones:

  • Lupus, all 4 types (SLE lupus, cutaneous lupus, drug-induced lupus, neonatal lupus)

  • Sjogren's

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

  • Scleroderma

Here are some lesser known conditions in the same family:

  • Polymyalgia rheumatica

  • Gout

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis

  • Infectious arthritis

  • Spondyloarthropathies -- ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and psoriatic arthritis (PsA)

What are the common symptoms a patient can have with a rheumatic autoimmune disease?

These are the common symptoms a patient might complain about that indicate they may have a rheumatic autoimmune disease:

  • Joint pain

  • Red sore inflamed joints

  • Stiff joints

  • loss of range of motion in the joints

What does the term musculoskeletal mean?

Musculoskeletal is a term that refers to the bones and connective tissues that help support the body. Musculoskeletal is also commonly interchanged with the term 'rheumatic'.

For example, a person may refer to Lupus as a musculoskeletal disease or a rheumatic disease.

What is the musculoskeletal system?

The musculoskeletal system includes bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissues. The skeleton provides a framework for the muscles and other soft tissues. This system works together to support your body’s weight and to help the body move.

What are the parts of the musculoskeletal system?

  • Bones: The human body is made up of 206 bones, ranging in a variety of shapes and sizes which make up and support the body. The bones work with the bodies muscles, tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues. Together they help the body move.

  • Cartilage: Is a type of connective tissue which helps to cushion bones inside the joints. It can be found along the spine and in the ribcage. Cartilage is firm, but rubbery and it helps to protect the bones from rubbing against each other. The body also has cartilage in the nose, ears, pelvis and lungs.

  • Joints: Bones come together to form joints. Joints can move in a variety of ways, making different ranges of motion. One example includes the shoulder joint which is a ball and socket joint.

  • Muscles: Are made up of thousands of stretchy fibers. Your muscles allow you to move, sit upright and stay still.

  • Ligaments: Are made of tough collagen fibers, ligaments connect bones and help stabilize joints.

  • Tendons: Help to connect muscles to bones. They are made of fibrous tissue and collagen. Tendons are tough but not very stretchy.

Who diagnoses rheumatic autoimmune diseases?

Rheumatic diseases are diagnosed by a specialist called an Rheumatologist.

For a patient to see a rheumatologist they typically need to have a referral sent in by their family physician.

This referral often needs to have a list of symptoms they currently have, and preliminary bloodwork drawn to help steer the diagnosis.

What should a patient do if they suspect they may have a rheumatic autoimmune disease?

Talk to your Primary Care Physician (PSP) if you suspect you may have a rheumatic autoimmune disease.

Come prepared with a list of symptoms, how long you have been experiencing the symptoms and which of the symptoms are creating the highest pain, or biggest disability.

What questions do I need to ask my primary doctor?

I suggest starting the conversation with your PCP with the information listed above. From there I would ask what bloodwork can be done.

If you suspect a specific diagnosis due to a recommendation from another specialist, make sure to ask your doctor to take that into consideration too.

An example of this would be: a patient goes for a routine check up with their optometrist. The optometrist notices the patient has dry eyes, and they ask a series of questions to check for systemic symptoms. Depending on the results, the optometrist may suspect Sjogren's and will refer you back to your PCP.

What can help me get a diagnosis if I suspect I have a rheumatic autoimmune disease?

If you suspect an autoimmune disease follow the steps listed in the questions above. Keep a record of your symptoms, get in to see your PCP and ask for bloodwork.


Today we learned the answers to many common questions for patients who are at the start of their journey learning about rheumatic autoimmune diseases.

This included an overview of what the musculoskeletal system was, how the bones and tissues work together in the body, and what the first steps should be if you suspect you have an autoimmune disease.

Now that you have learned the most common questions about rheumatic autoimmune diseases, you're ready to take a deeper dive into the world or rheumatic illnesses.

The next article in the Learning about Rheumatic Autoimmune Diseases series is coming up next week.

The next article in this series is Learning about Rheumatic Autoimmune Diseases (For Sjogren's and Lupus Patients).

Be sure to check back at our blog or sign up for our Newsletter below to get updates from us. We will be sure to send you our updated blog posts, interesting or essential reading for rheumatic disease patients, and updates on the website.

We hope to see everyone next week!

Wishing you Health and Happiness,

Heather and Marc




bottom of page