What is a Rheumatologist?

A rheumatologist is a vital part of a rheumatoid arthritis patient’s healthcare team. The rheumatologist is the physician who diagnoses the initial condition. They also recommend and prescribe the medical treatments needed to slow and stop disease progression, manage symptoms, and monitor the patient on an ongoing basis.

What is a Rheumatologist?

A rheumatologist is a specialized physician or a pediatrician. They diagnose, treat and care for patients suffering from a variety of rheumatic diseases. Rheumatologists have experience in treating many forms of arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis. Their specialty focuses on musculoskeletal diseases and systemic autoimmune conditions that affect the joints, bones and muscles.

Because of their specialty, rheumatologists are often able to detect early signs of rheumatoid arthritis that other doctors may not be able to initially identify. Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex disease and it may not be able to be diagnosed right away. It may require several visits to the rheumatologist. Once rheumatologists find and analyze the symptoms, they can determine the diagnosis.

What Qualifications do Rheumatologists Have?

Rheumatologists are doctors who have completed medical school and gone on to perform their residency training in internal medicine or pediatrics. Once their residency is completed, rheumatologists undergo further specialized training through a rheumatology fellowship. This is usually an additional two to three year training period.

In order to officially become a rheumatologist, they must then pass a certification exam, which must be retaken every ten years. Rheumatologists also undergo annual continuing education and ongoing training to keep up their skills and knowledge of the rheumatology practice.

What do Rheumatologists Help With?

Rheumatologists are the physicians that are able to diagnose a variety of rheumatic conditions by examining symptoms, performing medical tests and asking specific questions of their patients. They recommend ongoing medical treatments and monitor patients regularly.

Specifically for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatologists help treat many symptoms including joint pain, swelling and inflammation, stiffness, and deformities. Ultimately, a rheumatologist’s role in treating rheumatoid arthritis is to prevent joint damage or limit it as much as possible through aggressive, targeted treatments. They are also there to help improve the quality of life of their patients.

Due to the complex and chronic nature of rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatologists also look for any potential signs of complications that may arise because of the autoimmune condition.

Rheumatologists may also participate in ongoing studies and conduct clinical trials in order to contribute to the advancement of scientific discovery. Their focus may be on finding new and better treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. They also help to refine diagnostic criteria as we continue to learn about and better understand musculoskeletal and autoimmune conditions.

When to See a Rheumatologist

In most cases, you see a rheumatologist when your own physician refers you to them. Physicians refer their patients to rheumatologists when they suspect symptoms of rheumatic diseases and need to confirm a diagnosis.

If a patient complains of ongoing and persistent muscle and joint pain that does not go away after just a few days, the physician may want to confirm whether or not there is an underlying rheumatic condition. Rheumatoid arthritis can be treated most effectively if treatment begins early on in the disease course. This is why it is important to see a rheumatologist and be diagnosed as soon as possible.

Patients also see a rheumatologist for support in providing the most appropriate and effective medications for each patient’s unique condition. You’ll likely see your rheumatologists at a specialized outpatient facility or possibly directly within the hospital.

Visiting The Rheumatologist

Initially, you will work with your rheumatologist to determine the diagnosis of the condition. The rheumatologist will perform a full physical examination, ask many questions about your symptoms, and learn more about your family and medical background.

In preparing for your first visit to the rheumatologist, here are some items to collect and bring with you:

  • Past blood work results
  • Past imaging test results
  • Full list of current medication including vitamins and supplements or any over the counter medications like NSAIDs and analgesics
  • Information about medical allergies
  • Family medical history including any known cases of rheumatic or autoimmune conditions

After the initial examination, the rheumatologist may order additional testing and exams to further investigate your unique condition. Depending on what the rheumatologist finds, the further tests may include:

The results of these tests will help the rheumatologist to reach a final diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you will be placed on a treatment plan that addresses your unique case of rheumatoid arthritis. The treatment is also based on how far along the disease has progressed at the time of diagnosis.

Working With Your Rheumatologist

After your diagnosis and initial treatment plan, you will need to see your rheumatologist regularly as part of your overall treatment strategy. Rheumatologists are responsible for assessing their patients on an ongoing basis to monitor disease progress and ensure patients are responding well to medications.

As part of working with a rheumatologist, they will provide you with a personalized treatment plan that addresses your unique case of rheumatoid arthritis. This treatment plan can depend greatly on your age, sex, family background, and medical history.

Rheumatologists provide ongoing support to patients and make recommendations as to which drug types to try or switch to, therapies to pursue, and other specialists to see for more support in managing daily symptoms and staying healthy.

Ask Your Rheumatologist Questions

Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious and chronic disease that has no known cure. It’s important to understand your condition as best as possible so you can take charge of your personal health. Be sure to ask your rheumatologist lots of questions about your symptoms, you disease’s progress, as well as the medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. It’s important to address any concerns you may have about your overall condition and the medications you are taking.