Rheumatology is the branch of medicine which deals with arthritis and related disorders. Although the term rheumatology is relatively new (coined in 1950s), study of joint disorders is as old as the civilization itself. It is because of the increasing recognition of several types of arthritis and a multitude of other related diseases that a need was felt for studying these disorders under a separate category.
Rheumatology primarily deals with joint disorders that have their origin in the immune system. So, the primary branch of basic science studying joint disorders of immune origin is called immunology and rheumatology is the clinical counterpart of that, although there are some minor differences between the two. Some immune disorders never affect the joints and all joint disorders are not of immune origin.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is prototype illness causing joint problems and originating in immune system. It is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis in which immune-mediated inflammation leads to progressive joint damage and if left untreated, will cause severe deformities in multiple joints. About 2 to 4 percent of population is affected by this disease and like other immunological disorders, it is more common in females than males. Other common rheumatological disorders include Ankylosing Spondylitis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Reactive Arthritis and Gout. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus(SLE), Vasculitis, Scleroderma, Sjogren Syndrome and Myositis are other immunological disorders which are less common but can be more severe in nature. Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease all over the world but is mostly due to age related wear and tear and not immunological dysfunction. Finally, there are some painful conditions like Fibromyalgia which are not directly related to joints or immune system but lead to widespread pains and are often confused with arthritis. Thus, as a whole, rheumatological conditions are quite common in the society but lack of proper diagnosis and treatment often lead to a huge burden of disease and suffering.
There is acute shortage of trained healthcare personnel caring for rheumatology patients. Many patients from far-flung areas have to go to tertiary care centers in the metros for basic services like early diagnosis and primary care which is not always possible. The majority of rheumatological disorders can be diagnosed simply on clinical grounds without sophisticated investigations and the common disorders can be managed easily with proper counseling of the patient and well-defined treatment plan and proper monitoring. It is only in some special circumstances that a tertiary level care is required and there too, identification of the severity of the condition and need for higher center care can be done with some basic clinical tools. For all these reasons, more and more professionals trained in rheumatology are required so that patients in peripheral areas have access to basic services and tertiary care centers are not unnecessarily burdened. Prerna Clinic is a beginning in that direction.