Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Palindromic rheumatism: Does it cause joint pain?

I sometimes have joint pain caused by palindromic rheumatism. As I get older, are these attacks likely to damage my joints?

Updated: 05-14-2011

Answer

Palindromic rheumatism is closely linked to rheumatoid arthritis, which damages joints by causing chronic inflammation. Right now, though, there's no reliable way to predict how quickly palindromic rheumatism will progress — or whether it will get worse at all.

Palindromic rheumatism causes sudden attacks of joint pain and swelling, typically in the hands and feet. An episode of palindromic rheumatism may last from just a few hours to several days.

The frequency of attacks also varies. Some people experience more than one episode a week, while others have only three or four a year. Between attacks, pain and swelling completely disappear, and the affected joints look normal on X-rays.

An unknown number of people with palindromic rheumatism go on to develop rheumatoid arthritis, but the progression may take several years. In one study, 40 out of 60 people newly diagnosed with palindromic rheumatism had chronic joint inflammation within 10 years. Progression to rheumatoid arthritis was less common in other studies with shorter follow-up periods.

Drugs originally designed to combat malaria are often helpful in reducing the frequency and duration of attacks. These drugs also appear to reduce the likelihood that palindromic rheumatism will progress to rheumatoid arthritis.