RMD facts

RMDs are commonly classified into inflammatory and non-inflammatory types:

  • Common non-inflammatory RMDs consist of degenerative spine diseases, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and fibromyalgia.
  • Common inflammatory RMDs consist of rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis, connective tissue diseases and polymyalgia rheumatica.

Facts and figures

  • RMDs affect a quarter of all people in the European Union – over 120 million people2
  • Almost every family in Europe is affected by RMDs in some way2
  • In the industrialised world, RMDs affect more individuals than any other disease group2
  • RMDs affect both men and women of all ages, including children and babies.1 However, some RMDs are more common among certain populations. For example, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, fibromyalgia, and lupus predominantly affect women. Spondyloarthropathies and gout are more common in men3
  • RMDs are the biggest cause of sick leave and premature retirement worldwide1
  • RMDs have a huge economic burden on global healthcare systems. In Europe, public spending totals over €200 billion per year. They are the most expensive diseases for the European health and socio-economic systems. The costs are associated with diagnosis, treatment, drugs, care, assistive devices, home modifications, and research. In addition, decreased productivity and absence from work as a result of RMDs contributes significantly to these costs2
  • If left untreated, some RMDs may reduce life expectancy1

Causes, symptoms and diagnosis
In some cases, RMDs can be hereditary however a family history of RMDs does not mean you will inevitably get an RMD. 1 RMDs can also be triggered by lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive weight, sedentary lifestyles, increasing age and having occupations that lead to injury and overuse of joints/muscles, however in some cases the causes are unknown.1 Knowing the symptoms and talking to your healthcare professional is the first step in managing any disease.1 RMDs are associated with a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Inflammation indicated by joint swelling, stiffness, redness, and/or warmth
  • Persistent muscle and joint pain
  • Tenderness
  • Extreme fatigue, lack of energy, weakness, or a feeling of malaise
  • Stiffness and restricted range in movement or flexibility
  • Joint deformity
  • Symptoms affecting the internal organs1
  • Invisible symptoms e.g. depression and anxiety4

Quick action upon presentation of RMD symptoms is vital and symptoms should be assessed by a physician, preferably a specialist rheumatologist, as early as possible to access appropriate treatment. Early medical treatment of inflammatory RMDs, particularly in the first 12 weeks, can prevent joint and organ damage, improve long-term function, and increase the likelihood of achieving disease remission.5 Treatment choices should be made in partnership between the healthcare professional and patient, in consultation with the EULAR T2T guidelines and adapted according to individual need.6

Treating and managing RMDs
Treatment for RMDs typically focuses on managing the condition to ensure the best possible quality of life.1 There is no single medication or treatment that works for everyone.1 However, there are treatments, including medication, that help manage pain and control RMD symptoms.1 Clinical remission, where the symptoms appear to cease, is increasingly being made possible.1 Physiotherapy is often advised to reduce the symptoms of certain RMDs.7,8

The prevalence of clinical anxiety and depression in those with RMDs is about twice that seen in the general population – therefore psychological support may also be required.9

Self-management is a key part of managing RMDs and can be life-changing. For people with RMDs, self-management means taking control of living with an RMD, encouraging an attitude whereby they accept the condition affects them but does not control them. This management skill is identified as being crucial for emotional and physical wellbeing.10 This technique, combined with support from local patient groups and organisations can help people manage their RMD.


1. 10 things you should know about rheumatic diseases fact sheet. EULAR. Available at: http://www.eular.org/myUploadData/files/10%20thing...

2. Questions and answers on rheumatic diseases fact sheet. EULAR. Available at: http://www.eular.org/myUploadData/files/Q-and-A-on...

3. Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases. NIAMS. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/arthritis/#b

4. Survey 2014. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. Available at: http://www.nras.org.uk/data/files/Get%20Involved/R...

5. Simple Tasks. Rheumatic Conditions in the UK: The Problem. The Impact. The Answers. Available at: http://www.rheumatology.org.uk/includes/documents/...


7. Juhl C., Christensen R., Roos EM., Zhang W., Lund H. Impact of exercise type and dose on pain and disability in knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arthritis Rheumatol 2014;66:622-36. Available at: http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Carsten_Juhl/p...

8. Hagen KB., Dagfinrud H., Moe RH., Østerås N., Kjeken I., Grotle M., Smedslund G. Exercise therapy for bone and muscle health: an overview of systematic reviews. BMC Med. 2012;10:167. Available at: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/10/167

9. Geenen R., Newman S., Bossema E R., et al. Psychological interventions for patients with rheumatic diseases and anxiety or depression. Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology 26 (2012) 305–319. Available at: http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Johanna_Joke_V...

10. Self-management means taking control of living with your condition, and is crucial for your emotional and physical wellbeing. Arthritis Care. Available at: http://www.arthritiscare.org.uk/livingwitharthriti...