Understanding rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs) is an understandably tall order for the lay public, what with the huge number of conditions and the complex—and often little understood—processes involved.
Now, a working group of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) and the ACR has set out to try to correct this problem with a definition of RMDs in easy-to-understand language. The definition is part of a paper, recently published in Arthritis & Rheumatology and simultaneously in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, that also provides a clear and concise synopsis of several important points regarding RMDs that the group feels are important for the public and policymakers to grasp: the diversity of RMDs, their varied pathophysiological pathways, the major burden they pose to individuals and society, and workforce issues regarding care of patients with RMDs.1,2
“In general, it is difficult to understand what rheumatic diseases are,” says Desiree van der Heijde, MD, PhD, the paper’s lead author and professor of rheumatology at Leiden University Medical Center in The Netherlands. “It is a heterogeneous group of diseases with different causes, varying outcomes and affecting people at all ages. It is important to understand what rheumatic diseases are [because] they are prevalent and lead to a major burden for both patients and society.”
The group included leaders from EULAR and the ACR, with practicing and academic rheumatologists, a patient representative and a rheumatology health professional.
“The goal of this effort was to create a succinct general statement describing RMDs in adults and children in language that can be used in conversations with the general population with and without RMDs; media; healthcare providers; policymakers at local, national and international levels; health insurance companies; charities; employers; and other stakeholders,” the group wrote.
The group crafted this definition:
Rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs) are a diverse group of diseases that commonly affect the joints, but can affect any organ of the body. There are more than 200 different RMDs, affecting both children and adults. They are usually caused by problems of the immune system, inflammation, infections, or gradual deterioration of joints, muscles, and bones. Many of these diseases are long term and worsen over time. They are typically painful and limit function. In severe cases, RMDs can result in significant disability, having a major impact on both quality of life and life expectancy.
Dr. van der Heijde says that although the language and information in the paper will be helpful for communicating with a wide array of people, the most urgent need for improvement is “most likely” in communicating with policymakers.