What Is a Rheumatologist?

Arthritis is characterized as inflammation in the joints – the regions where the bones meet, allowing body movement. When the joint becomes inflamed, the patient might have arthritis. Arthritis and other skeletal conditions can be diagnosed and treated by a rheumatologist, but what is a rheumatologist? In this article, we'll describe who they are, what to expect from your appointment, and how they can manage your condition, so read on to find out more.

What Is a Rheumatologist?

A rheumatologist is a doctor specialized in diagnosing and treating joint, muscle and bone diseases, including arthritis. Spending 4 years in medical school and 3 years in internal medicine, the doctor will spend an extra 2-3 years undergoing specialist schooling in rheumatology. For rheumatologists planning on treating patients, they choose to become board-certified, and pass the rigorous examination by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

What Can a Rheumatologist Treat?

A rheumatologist specializes in conservative, non-surgical management of localized musculoskeletal ailments, such as tendonitis, bursitis and osteoarthritis, using joint injections, drugs and physical therapies.

They may also care for patients with autoimmune arthritic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, which can be debilitating and require drugs that modify the immune response. Rheumatologists also deal with another group of autoimmune conditions called the connective tissue diseases. These include vasculitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and Sjogren's syndrome.

As rheumatologists are experts in bone health, they are heavily involved in the prevention and early diagnosis of osteoporosis. Other ailments treated by rheumatological specialists include fibromyalgia, back pain, gout, and over 100 more.

When to Visit a Rheumatologist

Now you know the answer to "what is a rheumatologist" you will want ot know when to visit a rheumatologist. You should consider seeing a rheumatologist if you are under the following situations:

  • You have any of the health conditions listed above.
  • You have severe joint, muscle or bone pain, or if the pain continues for over a week.
  • You get recommendations from your primary care doctor, which is usually required when you have certain abnormal lab results, for example, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, or the levels of rheumatoid factor or anti-nuclear antibody.
  • You have specific concerns or questions concerning osteoporosis.

It is difficult to diagnose rheumatic conditions in the early stages, but rheumatologists have been specifically trained to identify what's causing the pain and swelling. This is important for early diagnosis, so an appropriate treatment plan can be devised. What's more, many musculoskeletal illnesses are most responsive to treatment at these early stages.

Rheumatological conditions can be complicated, so you may need several appointments with the rheumatologist to get an accurate diagnosis and devise a specific treatment plan. Moreover, the course of the condition normally takes time, so you'll probably need follow-up visits once treatment has started.

How to Prepare for First Visit to a Rheumatologist

At your initial rheumatology appointment, you will need to bring:

  • Your family medical history, including details of relatives with autoimmune or rheumatologic conditions.
  • A list of any allergies you have.
  • A record of all the medicines you are currently taking together with the dosages, as well as any previous treatment you've had for your rheumatological condition
  • Any laboratory results or MRI/X-ray/ultrasound scan reports you have. These are usually sent through from your doctor, but your rheumatologist may not have them to-hand.

To help your rheumatologist understand your condition, draw a timeline of your symptoms, and any improvements/deteriorations in symptoms together with any treatment you've received. Go back as far as possible.

You'll probably have lots of questions for your rheumatologist about the disease and how it's treated. Here are several things you will want to know, such as:

  • How long before you see improvement
  • How you can get a good night's sleep
  • Whether you'll be on medication for the rest of your life
  • The options available if you don't like taking drugs
  • Where you can find further information about your condition
  • If there are any support groups in your local area

When your first appointment is over, your rheumatologist will have a pretty good understanding of how you are affected by your condition. He or she will become an important part of your healthcare team in helping you to move forward.

What to Expect After Visiting a Rheumatologist

You'll find out a variety of treatment options available for your illness, for instance, drugs, surgery, physical therapy, general supportive care, and specialist procedures, such as joint injections. However, the treatment you receive will be determined by your condition, your personal needs, and any other medical issues you have. To make sure you receive the best care, your rheumatologist will communicate regularly with your primary care doctor.

As specialty care, although you will usually have a larger co-payment for rheumatologist visits than for primary care appointments, you'll probably save time and money in the long-run, and see a greater improvement in symptoms. Rheumatologists have been specifically trained to identify any clues in your medical history and physical examination as to your exact condition. This helps them make earlier diagnosis and they can order the tests you need. This will save you unnecessary testing and treatment, as well as your hard-earned dollars.

Where to Find a Rheumatologist

Your primary physician can refer you to a rheumatologist for assessment; however, you can make an appointment with some rheumatologists without a referral. Rheumatologists mostly practice in outpatient clinics and are normally affiliated with a hospital. In addition to outpatient appointments, rheumatologists examine hospitalized patients with rheumatic problems.

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