Common rheumatologic diseases in elderly patients

Mayo Clin Proc. 1995 Dec;70(12):1205-14. doi: 10.4065/70.12.1205.


Objective: To review common rheumatologic disorders that affect elderly patients and emphasize the unique diagnostic and therapeutic challenges inherent in the management of rheumatologic diseases in this age-group.

Design: We summarize our approach to treatment and management of specific rheumatologic problems in geriatric patients and discuss pertinent studies from the literature.

Results: Among the spectrum of rheumatologic disorders frequently encountered in the elderly population are polymyalgia rheumatica, fibromyalgia, giant cell arteritis, crystalline arthropathies (gout and pseudogout), and degenerative joint disease. The initial manifestations of these rheumatologic diseases in elderly patients may differ from the typical findings in younger patients. Geriatric patients may have nonspecific complaints, a decline in physical function, or even confusion. Because of physiologic changes associated with aging and a decrease in functional reserves, elderly patients are susceptible to adverse effects of pharmacologic therapy (including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroids, narcotic analgesics, allopurinol, and colchicine). Clinicians should be alert for such problems as hepatotoxicity and occult gastrointestinal blood loss. Comorbid conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment may complicate management strategies and may limit the goals of both surgical intervention and rehabilitation programs in elderly patients.

Conclusion: Rheumatologic disorders in geriatric patients pose special challenges to primary-care physicians. In the selection of optimal pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic therapeutic modalities, clinicians should focus on maintaining or improving the patient's quality of life and level of independent function.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Comorbidity
  • Geriatrics
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life
  • Rheumatic Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Rheumatic Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Rheumatic Diseases* / therapy