The protagonist of W. Somerset Maugham's "Salvatore" is diagnosed with a medical condition referred to in the story as rheumatism, a blanket term for any disease characterized by painful inflammation of the joints, muscles, and bones. Usually the term is used as a synonym for rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia. However, rheumatoid disorders also include lupus and gout, among others.
Symptoms of rheumatoid disorders involve pain in joints, bodily stiffness, swollen joints and tissues, and fatigue. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease caused by the body's inflammatory system attacking the body's own cells, mistaking the synovium tissue lining around a joint for harmful invaders like bacteria and viruses. Because the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can appear similar to those of other diseases, it is difficult to diagnose the condition in early stages. While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, remission of symptoms has been achieved with anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, and various anti-rheumatic drugs.
Physical therapy can also help patients learn to keep their joints flexible. In certain cases, such as hip pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis, total joint replacement surgery can replace damaged joints with metal and plastic protheses.
Statisticians estimate that one in every thousand children in the United States will develop a type of rheumatic disease in their lifetime.