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Helpful definitions

Medicine is full of jargon. Here are some words which are commonly used in rheumatology.

Arthritis means disease of or damage to the joints. Although the ending –it is implies inflammation, in some forms of arthritis there is very little inflammation present.

Joints are the places where bones meet. They allow flexibility. There are different types of joint. In “synovial” joints the surfaces where the bones meet are covered in cartilage and the joint is enclosed in a capsule which is lined with synovium.

Cartilage is the smooth, tough material with a slippery surface which covers the bone ends. It acts as a shock absorber and allows smooth movement between bones.

Synovium is the inner layer of the joint capsule. It produces synovial fluid to lubricate the joint. This synovial fluid is produced by normal joints. When arthritis develops in a joint the synovial membrane becomes thickened and it produces large amounts of fluid. This is what causes the swelling of the joint.

Rheumatism is a more general term used in the past to describe any pain in or around your bones, muscles and joints.

Ligaments are tough, fibrous bands which hold two bones together in a joint.

Tendons are strong fibrous cords that connect muscles to bones.

Immune system - The immune system is the body’s defence system against infection and other problems. It consists of an integrated network of cells and the chemicals they produce which constantly patrol the body looking for problems. When such a problem is encountered the immune system reacts by producing inflammation, the aim of which is to eliminate the infection (or other abnormality) from the body.

Autoimmune disease – a disorder of the body's defence mechanism (immune system), in which antibodies and other components of the immune system attack the body's own tissues.

Inflammation - When the immune system reacts to infection or some other stimulus, the whole process is called inflammation. There is often pain, swelling, redness, and warmth of the affected part.

-itis at the end of a word means inflammation of something e.g. tonsillitis

Connective tissue - This term loosely describes the tissues which hold the body together. Connective tissue is present in all organs, so the term “Connective Tissue Diseases” describes a group of diseases which affect a wide range of different body systems.

Acute - in a medical setting “acute” usually means of something which has a sudden onset, is severe and does not last long.

Chronic - in a medical setting “chronic” refers to a condition which persists for a long time.

Prognosis – is the medical term for outlook, or a prediction of the likely outcome.


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